As part of my personal Bible study I like to browse the internet for commentary and opinions by others. I figure if someone else has already studied this why duplicate their effort? Might as well take advantage of it. I gotta tell you, some of the exegesis (if you can call it that) is pretty goofy. But, we're all struggling to come to the truth and no one has all the answers, so I figure that's all just part of the learning process. Besides, I sometimes think Jesus gets people to write goofy stuff just to force others to study and think harder about things.
The other thing I see a lot of is sarcastic, in-your-face diatribes about doctrines the writer thinks are wrong. I have been know to do things like that myself from time to time. OUTRAGEOUS! - that's not very Christlike is it? Uhhhh. . . Actually it kinda is. You see, Jesus was pretty outrageous himself at times. Like when he had discussions with the Pharisees, for example.
When we study scripture we always have to remember to keep things in context. We can't just pull verses out here or there and string them together. The text surrounding a verse is necessary to get the right meanings. There's another kind of context: historical context. To get the total impact of some of what Jesus said requires understanding the times he lived in.
The Pharisees can be thought of as a kind of mix of ultra-religious, intellectual elite and successful businessmen of the day. They studied scriptures like no one else and most of us could probably do well to do some of what they did in that regard. Unfortunately, despite their careful and rigorous study, they don't seem to have gotten the message. At any rate, they were respected students and teachers of the law and were quite proud of it.
Then along came Jesus from, of all places, Galilee. And he's dragging around this rag-tag group of misfits with Him. This outsider comes in and without the proper credentials starts showing off how he knows more about the law than all these smart guys do. He understands it better, too. That's bad enough if you're some arrogant hyper-religious person, but then Jesus starts calling them names. In public. OUTRAGEOUS!
Jesus didn't just want to sit around having a gentlemanly discussion of the finer points of the Law. He got right in their faces and called them evil and stupid using some of the most biting sarcasm you can imagine. Most translations don't really do justice to what Jesus said. Add to that the fact that preachers and priests stand there in the pulpit and recite Jesus's words in some holy-holy intonation. It just doesn't work for me. So, I think it may be helpful to paraphrase a bit of what Jesus said in Matthew 23 and give it a bit more impact.
You Pharisees are nothing but a bunch of LYING HYPOCRITES! You're so STUPID you wash the outside of a bowl and don't bother with the inside. Stupid - you end up with a bowl with rotting, crusty old food in it. You guys are like graveyards where the grass is always nice and cut, but underneath the surface is nothing but ROT AND DECAY! . . . Poisonous snakes is what you are really like, and you guys are going to HELL!
Yeah, something like that. Remember this was being said to the elite, not some little guy no one cared about. The Pharisees' big problem was they had no inner man of righteousness. Inside they were spiritually dead, and Jesus told them so in no uncertain terms. No nice little kind words about how maybe, if you please, you guys could think about, if you want to, looking at your heart. OK? No wonder they didn't like Jesus very much. Here is another one, from Mark 7.
Don't you guys get it? Anything you eat goes in the mouth, through the belly and out the other end into the sewer. It isn't what goes in that defiles you, it's what comes out! If inside, you're full of corruption, then that's the problem you need to deal with.
You really have to use your imagination here a bit. This is an incredible double-entendre. Jesus is saying that what comes out of most peoples mouths is like what normally comes out the other end. Get it? Unless the inside is clean, you are not righteous. Rituals and traditions like washing the hands don't make a bit of difference. That's what the Pharisees were complaining about - that Jesus and His disciples didn't do the appropriate rituals according to tradition. Jesus told them the traditions that they were so proud of were actually a complete destruction of God's word. Read Matthew Henry's commentary on this and also Matthew 15. It's very good. Here is a little bit of it:
What the tradition of the elders was: by it all were enjoined to wash their hands before meat; a cleanly custom, and no harm in it; and yet as such to be over-nice in it discovers too great a care about the body, which is of the earth; but they placed religion in it, and would not leave it indifferent, as it was in its own nature; people were at their liberty to do it or not to do it; but they interposed their authority, and commanded all to do it upon pain of excommunication; this they kept up as a tradition of the elders. The Papists pretend to a zeal for the authority and antiquity of the church and its canons, and talk much of councils and fathers, when really it is nothing but a zeal for their own wealth, interest, and dominion, that governs them; and so it was with the Pharisees. . . .
Of all these he concludes 1. That they come from within, from the corrupt nature, the carnal mind, the evil treasure in the heart; justly is it said, that the inward part is very wickedness, it must needs be so, when all this comes from within. 2. That they defile the man; they render a man unfit for communion with God, they bring a stain upon the conscience; and, if not mortified and rooted out, will shut men out of the new Jerusalem, into which no unclean thing shall enter.
Matthew Henry can get pretty outrageous too at times!
Jesus wasn't beyond using sarcasm and wit to teach his own disciples either, like Matthew 15:22-28.
A Cannanite woman came around and started bugging Jesus, asking him to get rid of a demon in her daughter. Jesus didn't say anything and the disciples came and said, can't you get rid of that loud woman? So, Jesus told her that he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but the woman wouldn't quit. She begged Jesus to help her, but Jesus said, it's not right for me to give children's food to the dogs. But she wouldn't quit and said back, yeah, but even dogs get to eat some crumbs that fall off the table! Then Jesus says, WOW have you got FAITH! All right, go home, your daughter is healed.
I just love this story. At first it seems like Jesus isn't going to help the woman. He even says some things to her that are downright rude. Some commentators think Jesus was being consistent in treating with the Jews first. Others see some special message about the "lost tribes of Israel." Still others think that Jesus was just testing her faith to see if she would keep pleading. Personally, I agree with the comments in Don Richardson's wonderful book Eternity in Their Hearts. He believes, and I tend to agree, that this was a setup for the disciples. Jesus was "playing along" so that He could make an important point to His disciples.
Most of the Jews at that time thought of the Messiah and his kingdom as an earthly kingdom. They believed the Messiah would reestablish the throne of David and Solomon. The Jews would then be out from under the Romans and lord it over all the nations of the earth. Jesus has to make it clear to them that His kingdom is different than what they imagined. He is going to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all mankind and not just Israel.
So there is the point. Jesus will heal and deliver anyone who seeks Him in faith. Race, heritage, nationality, wealth, standing in the community - none of these are important. What is important is a clean heart and reliance on salvation by His grace, through faith. This doctrine is outrageous to those who want to impose some set of traditions, rituals, church teaching, Torah keeping, or other outward appearance as a condition of salvation. But I say, any doctrine other than salvation by faith is just OUTRAGEOUS.