Language Sites
  • UCAN China
  • UCAN India
  • UCAN Indonesia
  • UCAN Vietnam
Gospel Reflections » International

“Conflict With The Pharisees”

February 12, 2013

Mail This Article
(For more than one recipient, type addresses separated by commas)

Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees are presented as being antagonistic to Jesus and his message. We generally think of them as vain, conceited and hypocritical;  the term ‘pharisee’ today has negative connotations. So it may come as a surprise to know that the Pharisees were actually the ‘good people’ of that day. They were intelligent, righteous, and observant of the Law in every mechanical detail.


In fact they were so righteous, they became self-righteous. They felt they had no need of God’s mercy or forgiveness, for they performed well all that was required of them. Observance of  ritual saved them, or so they thought.


In the episode presented today, the Pharisees take up something  small – the custom of cleansing oneself before sitting down to a meal – and badger the disciples about why Jesus exempts himself from these legal niceties. How can he be good, if he neglects these details of the Law, is what they say.


In reply, Jesus draw a distinction between what ‘goes into a man’ through the food he eats, and what ‘comes out of a man’ from the thoughts he thinks.


Food of itself cannot contaminate you, he says, and the distinction made between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ food is artificial. Food which is tainted can at worst give you a stomach-ache, but it leaves your character intact. But what can harm you are the thoughts which fester in your mind: lustful desires, plans for revenge, the ambition to grab what isn’t yours, the urges to violence. All these urges lead to evil action. So it’s what comes out of a man’s heart which can hurt him even more than the kind of food he eats.


The Pharisees fastened on the external action, the ritual. Jesus looks at the interior disposition, the attitude. It’s no use pretending to perform intricate rituals when one’s heart is far from God. This is why the word ‘pharisee’ today describes the consummate hypocrite, the one who pretends to piety while his heart is consumed with evil.

UCAN needs your support to continue our independent journalism
Access to UCAN stories is completely free of charge - however it costs a significant amount of money to provide our unique content. UCAN relies almost entirely on donations from our readers and donor organizations that support our mission. If you are a regular reader and are able to support us financially, please consider making a donation. Click here to donate now.