As Jesus’ last week progressed, it became more and more obvious He wasn’t messing around. He’d already thrown the money changers out of the temple (with whips and some furniture moving, so to speak) and cursed a fig tree. Now He took aim at the Pharisees and Sadducees.
When I was a little girl, the church we were attending at the time had an interim (read: temporary fill-in) pastor. There was one Sunday morning in particular I remember, and it wasn’t because his sermon was so powerful. There were two young girls sitting on the front pew. It had become their “assigned” seat over the past weeks. The two were obviously sisters whose parents never came to church with them. On this particular morning, they began to squabble over something during the sermon, as siblings are prone to do. When the volume of the squabble reached a certain level (which, to my recollection, was not all that loud), the pastor literally pointed to them and said they needed to pipe down (my paraphrase). Then, as though realizing what he’d just done, he chuckled and said, “Is there an adult willing to come sit with these two?”
Something about being called out in public will make you want to avoid that situation again.
So imagine the fury felt by the Pharisees when Jesus called them out in front of everyone not once, not twice, but seven times in a row, saying, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees…” He called them out for being hypocrites, for making up rules, for keeping up outward appearances, for “appearing” righteous and for assuming they were better than their predecessors. Ouch.
I can only guess that the Sadducees (a separate sect of religious leaders at the time) sat back, laughed and blurted an occasional, “Oooohhhhh!” much like students in a classroom emit when one of their peers puts somebody in their place verbally. So, the Sadducees approach Jesus with a bit of cockiness, asking a ridiculous hypothetical question about resurrection (which they happen to not believe in). That question was followed by another one meant to trick Jesus: what’s the most important commandment?
Jesus gave such amazing answers to the questions of those who sought to trap Him that they completely shut up. The Bible says they didn’t ask Him another question after that. I don’t know how well you know the clergy in your life, but it is rare that religious leaders are stunned to the point of silence.
Then Jesus makes a point to teach the disciples something, as they watch a widow give her last penny as an offering to God. He explained that she “gets it” better than those who gave so much more and held so much back. He applauded her faith and made her the example to follow rather than the religious leaders He had just silenced.
The gospel is very clear. Our hearts matter more than our appearances, our faith in Jesus more than our ability to keep rules.