Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees

Gospel Reflection for Saturday January 16th, 2021 — Mark 2:13-17



Once again we’re witness, albeit via hindsight, to another day in the life of Jesus. WOW, the guy just cannot seem to catch a break — seemingly non-stop action and even controversy. Immediately following the event where some over zealous folks literally tear the roof off the home where Jesus is living at the time, He is once more teaching large crowds along the Sea shore. Somewhere along the way, presumably after the teaching was concluded, He passed by the Tax Collector Levi, and called this Publican to “follow” him.


Yes, tax collectors, were also known as publicans. They are mentioned many times in the in the New Testament, and never in a positive light. They were reviled by the Jews of Jesus' day because of their perceived greed and collaboration with the Roman occupiers.


According to Rabbinism there was no hope for a tax collector. They were excluded from all religious fellowship including the Temple and Synagogue. Their money was considered tainted and it defiled anyone who accepted it. They could not serve as a witness in any court in Israel. The Rabbis had no word to describe any sort of help for the tax collector, because they expected him to externally conform to the law in order to be justified before God.


Ancient Jewish writings reveal some interesting views of Rabbis toward the tax collectors:

  • "As one robber disgraced his whole family, so one publican in a family; promises were not to be kept with murderers, thieves and publicans" -Nedar 3:4

  • "The synagogue alms box and the temple corban must not receive their alms" -Baba Kama 10:1

  • "It was not lawful to use riches received from them, as gotten by rapine; nor could they judge or give testimony in court -Sanhedr. 25, sec. 2

It is said that Tax collectors amassed personal wealth by demanding tax payments in excess of what Rome levied and keeping the difference. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sympathizes with the tax collector Zacchaeus, causing outrage from the crowds that Jesus would rather be the guest of a sinner than of a more respectable or "righteous" person. Matthew the Apostle in the New Testament was a tax collector. We find Jesus with a similar attitude here with Levi.


The attitude of Jesus toward the tax collectors was in stark contrast to that of the Rabbis. He had come to seek and save the lost. The Pharisees were separatists, and did not lower themselves to have anything to do with a tax collector (Hmm...), who was to them no better than a Gentile. But Jesus came not to condemn (without him, everyone is already in trouble), but to offer every sinner and offer eternal life. He never taught that there was anything inherently wrong with paying tribute to the Roman Government or collecting the tax. He was opposed to extortioners, but would fling open the door of repentance and salvation to them. He rejected none, not even the worst social outcast.


Jesus made himself a friend of men, even of the tax collectors and the worst of sinners. He set a new precedent among the Jews by accepting and associating with the tax collectors. He ate with them (Mark 2:16), He offered salvation to them (Luke 19:9), and He even chose a tax collector (Matthew) as one of His twelve disciples (Matt 9:9).


Luke 18:9-14 "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


Oh, right... What does all this have to do with HYPOCRISY of the Scribes and Pharisees? Ask yourself, why were they there at Levi’s house as well? Doing such a thing, according to the religious practices of that day, would have rendered them “ritually unclean” themselves. There were certain things that were just not done, in that day and time, particularly for so-called devout Jewish public figures. Their hatred of Jesus seemed to override their concerns for their own spiritual wellbeing. My sisters and brothers, the proverbial “ends” do not justify the “means.” The methodology of the evil one is not appropriate for the Children of God. We must not become what we despise. Unlike the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, we must confront evil with good, hatred with love. We must never compromise our faith or moral convictions out of spite and, or hatred.


In these trying times, don’t let your anger cause you to do something you’ll regret on the day of judgment. The Bible tells us that righteous anger may be appropriate at times, but it isn’t justification to sin. (Ephesians 4:26)


We would do well to remember Jesus’ condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” It is imperative that we as the Church must such hypocrisy.


GOSPEL — Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out along the sea. All the crowd came to him and he taught them. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed Jesus. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

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