The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector

Jesus told this parable to some people who were contemptuous and felt they were more righteous than everyone else:

“A Pharisee and a tax collector once went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stood alone and began to pray “God, thank you that I’m not like other people – the greedy, unrighteous, or the adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of my earnings.’

But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even raise his eyes up to heaven but kept striking his chest in mourning, saying ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man returned home justified, instead of the other one. Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

LK 18:9-14

Kingdom values

The Pharisees (who loved money) were listening to what Jesus was saying and mocking him. Jesus told them “All of you justify yourselves in front of others, but God knows what is in your heart. What people admire the most is what is repulsive to God. The words of the Law and the Prophets were followed until John came. Ever since then, the good news about the kingdom of God has been declared, and many people are crowding in. But even the smallest letter of the words of the Law and the Prophets are still valid.”

LK 16:14-17

The blind man’s sight and the blindness of the Pharisees

Jesus went and found the man after they had thrown him out. He said “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man asked “Who is that, Sir, so I can believe in him?”

Jesus answered, “You have seen him. Actually, he’s talking to you right now.”

“Lord, I believe!” he said, and he began to worship Jesus.

Jesus said “I have been sent as a sign of God’s judgment, so that those who are blind will see and that those who are sure of their sight will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were standing nearby overheard this and asked “Are you saying that we are blind?”

“If you were blind,” Jesus replied, “you would be free of any guilt that would cause your sin. But because you say that you can see, you are fully accountable for your sins.”

JN 9:35-41

Jesus speaks with Nicodemus

Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and member of the Pharisees. He came to Jesus secretly at night and said “Teacher, we know that God has sent you as a teacher, because only those who God is with can do the signs you have performed.”

Jesus told him, “Truly I say to you, unless you have been reborn, you can never enter into the kingdom of God.”

“How can anyone be born again?” Nicodemus exclaimed. “How can an old person enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”

“This is the truth – Unless you are born by the way of water and of the Holy Spirit, you will never enter the kingdom of God. Whoever is born by the way of the flesh is just flesh, but if you are born by the way of the Spirit, you are so much more. Don’t be amazed when I tell you that you must be born a second time. You can hear the wind blow but you don’t know where it came from or where it will go. The same is true of everyone who is born by the way of the Spirit.”

“How is this possible?” asked Nicodemus.

“You, a respected teacher of the Law of Moses, and you don’t understand this? Truly, I’m telling you what God reveals to me, but you don’t accept it. If you don’t believe me when I tell you about the earthly things that happen, then how will you believe me when I tell you about heavenly things? The only one who has been raised up into heaven is the same one who came down from heaven, and that is the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses raised up an image of a serpent to heal people in the wilderness, the Son of Man must be raised up, so that everyone who believes in him will be saved from death.

God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son here to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved because of him. Anyone who believes in him is saved, but those who don’t believe are lost, because they don’t believe in the only Son of God.

Those who are lost have made themselves that way, because the Light has come into the world and they loved the darkness more because they did evil things. Everyone who does evil things hates to have them exposed to the Light. But everyone who lives truthfully comes to the Light so that God’s glory may be revealed.”

JN 3:1-21

Much forgiveness, much love.

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with him at his home. He accepted the invitation, and as he was reclining at the dinner table, a woman from that town who was known as a sinner entered the home, carrying an alabaster flask filled with expensive perfume. Weeping, she knelt behind him at his feet with her tears falling upon them. She wiped her tears from his feet with her hair and then began to kiss his feet and anoint them with the perfume.

When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus noticed what was happening, he thought to himself “If this man really were a prophet he would know that the woman who is touching him is a sinner!”

Jesus, knowing his host’s thoughts, said “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Jesus then told him a parable. “Say there is a man who loaned money to two people. To one he loaned $5000 and to the other he loaned $500. Neither one was able to pay him back, so he graciously canceled both their debts. Which one do you think loved him more?”

“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt,” Simon answered.

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. Then he gestured towards the woman and said to Simon “Do you notice this woman here? When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me any water to wash the dust off my feet as most people do, but she has washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss as most people do, but she has not quit kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil as most people do, but she has anointed my feet with expensive perfume. Therefore, her many sins are forgiven because she loves me greatly, but the one who has a smaller debt of sin to forgive shows a small amount of love.”

Then, looking at the woman, he said “Your sins are forgiven.”

Those who were at the table with him said amongst themselves, “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. You may go in peace.”

LK 7:36-50

The Primary Commandment

The Pharisees went to where Jesus was when they heard how he had refuted the Sadducees. An expert in the Law challenged Jesus asking him, “Which commandment is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all of your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second commandment is like it -‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commandments greater than these two. All the teachings of the Prophets and the Law base their foundation upon these two commandments.”

The man who questioned him said “You are correct, Teacher! You spoke the truth when you said that there is only One God, and that we are to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. These practices are far more important that all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Because of the wisdom of his answer, Jesus said to him “You are not far from entering the kingdom of God. You have answered correctly. If you do these things you will live. ”

The authorities did not dare to challenge him any further.

MT 22:34-40, MK 12:28-34, LK 10:25-28

The impurity of death

What was Jesus talking about when he said to the Pharisees, scribes, and other religious authorities these words about them?

Luke 11:44 (HCSB)
“Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves; the people who walk over them don’t know it.”

Why would it matter if someone walked over an unmarked grave?

These verses from Matthew 23:27-28 (HCSB) give more insight.
27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus has already said in several different ways in Matthew 23:1-26 and Luke 11:37-52 that the religious authorities don’t practice what they preach. They tell people to follow the Law of Moses yet they don’t do it themselves. They get in the way of people who are about to enter the kingdom of heaven because they don’t understand the real reason for the rules and they give a bad example in their lives. The “kingdom of heaven” is not about when you die, but a state of awakened consciousness and connection with God here and now. It is about actively participating with God in making the world a better place.

Let us dig deeper on the “unmarked grave” idea. There is a Jewish concept about being defiled by death. Having contact with a dead body will result in you being unable to participate in normal life for seven days. It takes a lot of work to get you ritually pure again. You are essentially a leper – you have to live outside of the camp (or city). You don’t get to live with your family or hang out with your friends.

The rule comes from Numbers 19:11-12 (HCSB) –
11 “The person who touches any human corpse will be unclean for seven days.12 He is to purify himself with the water on the third day and the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person will be cut off from Israel. He remains unclean because the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, and his uncleanness is still on him.

If this wasn’t difficult enough, the cure itself isn’t easy. This isn’t just any water (see verse 12) that is being talked about. The “water for impurity” – rather, the water used to remove impurity – isn’t easy to make. It requires a long and involved process. Here are the instructions for making that.

Numbers 19:1-10 (HCSB)
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, 2 “This is the legal statute that the LORD has commanded: Instruct the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red cow that has no defect and has never been yoked. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest, and he will have it brought outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 The cow must be burned in his sight. Its hide, flesh, and blood, are to be burned along with its dung. 6 The priest is to take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn, and throw them onto the fire where the cow is burning. 7 Then the priest must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may enter the camp, but he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. 8 The one who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he will remain unclean until evening. 9 “A man who is clean is to gather up the cow’s ashes and deposit them outside the camp in a ceremonially clean place. The ashes must be kept by the Israelite community for preparing the water to remove impurity; it is a sin offering.10 Then the one who gathers up the cow’s ashes must wash his clothes, and he will remain unclean until evening. This is a permanent statute for the Israelites and for the foreigner who resides among them.

So walking over an unmarked grave and not knowing it would be terrible because you would accidentally become defiled. Whether you know it or not you are still defiled. If the grave is marked you have a chance to avoid it – but if it is unmarked you don’t have a chance. The same is true of the religious authorities that Jesus is talking about. They are defiling people with their examples. So people who look up to them are being dragged down into hell. They don’t realize they are being mislead.

This is why I paraphrased the verse from Luke 11:44 like this in the Condensed Gospel: “Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves. People walk over you not even knowing that they have become defiled.”

While this rendering gives a little more insight into the verse, I felt a further understanding of the Jewish death taboos was helpful, so that is why I have included it here.