The passage can be read here.
Rumour has it that during the Cold War, there were shelters in some of our major cities where in the event of a nuclear attack, the great and the good would rush in and be safe. It would have been sad for the rest of us of course but for those inside the shelter, all they would have to do is wait out the nuclear holocaust and then pick up where they left off. Who knows whether or not they worked out that it would take thousands of years for the surface to be habitable again. I’m sure they did think things through as there are some very clever people in the world.
The reason that this comes to my mind is that if we look at the life of Jesus, he didn’t spend his time with the kind of people who would be saved in those secret bunkers. In fact, he spent his time with people, many of whom had been excluded from society. In today’s passage Jesus had a meal with some Pharisees, and maybe the great and the good. It didn’t go well.
It seems strange that Jesus, one who had infinite patience when dealing with sinful people, seemed to have so little patience when dealing with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus was invited to a meal with one of the Pharisees. At the meal, Jesus deliberately offended the Pharisee by neglecting to clean his hands ceremonially (we can be sure he did not forget), he then began to condemn them and their practices and when one of the Pharisees pointed out that they were offended, Jesus’ condemnation increased. Why? It seems to me that the Pharisees needed to know their errors, the ordinary people needed to know and crucially, so do we.
Jesus accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy, appearing to be one thing, being outwardly clean, and yet, being inwardly full of greed and wickedness (v39). They were unbalanced in that they paid great attention to smallest details of the law but missed the really big stuff like justice and the love of God (v42). They were proud, loving to be seen in all the right places to aid their own reputations (v43). They placed impossible demands on the people without being of any help to them (v46). They were a hindrance to those who would serve God (v52). With biting irony, Jesus described those who would go to great lengths to avoid touching a grave and for fear of being defiled, as being ‘unmarked graves’ themselves that defile others.
I suspect, many would like to have seen Jesus put these people straight. There’s something satisfying about seeing arrogance destroyed, like in one of the reality shows when someone announces that they are going to be a global super star, the biggest star of all and then they sing and Simon Cowell delivers the devastating truth; you can’t sing. But the Pharisees were serious about following God, they knew their scriptures and their theology was pretty good. Then I think of myself, an evangelical, we love the Bible, we study it and preach it, our theology is spot on and we make sure we maintain it and if all this is true; why do I sound like a Pharisee?
I believe these passages are in the scriptures in part so that we would examine our own hearts, to root out hypocrisy and pride, to confess again our own unworthiness and total dependence on the grace of God.
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”