When Jesus was confronted by some of the religious leaders of His day who criticized Him for eating with “sinners”, He quoted the prophet Hosea, telling them to go back to their books and discover what God really meant when He said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13, NIV, quoting Hos. 6:6).
As we will see, Jesus lived a life of caring and service. His interactions with others, His healing miracles, and many of His parables demonstrated and urged that a life lived in such a way was the best way to express true devotion to God. The religious leaders were His greatest critics but were also the target of His harshest criticism. Like the religious people of Isaiah’s day, they believed that they ensured their special relationship with God because of their religious practices, while at the same time they were exploiting the poor and ignoring the needy. Their worship was out of step with their actions, and Jesus was not reserved in His condemnation of such hypocrisy.
Read Mark 12:38-40. Does Jesus’ comment that they “devour widows’ houses” seem out of place in this list, or is that the point Jesus is trying to make? How would you explain why “these shall receive greater damnation”?
Perhaps Jesus’ most frightening sermon—particularly for religious people—is that found in Matthew 23. Not only did Jesus describe their religion as not helping people who are disadvantaged in life, He considered such religion as adding to their burdens. By their actions or at times their lack of action and caring, Jesus said, they “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matt. 23:13, NIV).
But echoing the prophets of centuries earlier, Jesus also directly addressed the gap between their serious religious practices and the injustices they condoned and profited from. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23, NIV). Jesus was quick to add that the religious practices and observances are not wrong in themselves, but they should not take the place of treating others fairly.
How can we avoid the trap of thinking that having and knowing the truth is enough?