What did Jesus mean when he warned his disciples of the “leaven” of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6; Luke 12:1-3)? Why did Jesus react as he did in Luke 11:37-54, and how may we learn from Christ’s example?
HOW PHARISAISM WAS CORRUPT “LEAVEN”
In Luke 11:37-54,
Although the word “hypocrisy” had not been spoken there, it was the sum and substance of His contention, that Pharisaism, while pretending to what it was not, concealed what it was. And it…like leaven, pervaded the whole system of Pharisaism. Not that as individuals they were all hypocrites, but that the system was hypocrisy. And here it is characteristic of Pharisaism, that rabbinic Hebrew has not even a word equivalent to the term hypocrisy…. It is against this that He warned His disciples…conscious deception, pretence, or flattery…the danger of the Church. Our common term, ‘unreality,’ but partially describes it.The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah
“HYPOCRISY” IN ITS ORIGINAL CONTEXT
Since “hypocrisy” was foreign to the language of the conscientious and religious Jew, Jesus referred outside of their traditionalism. He referred to the heathens around them, to their forms of entertainment. To their actors in the theatres who were “hypokrites,” where our word hypocrisy comes from. And he did it (probably) shortly after the dinner he had with these Pharisees in Luke 11:37-54, or at least, not at the dinner table.
THEIR MEAL ETIQUETTE
At meals the rules…were strictly observed, especially as regarded the sages. Indeed, two tractates are added to the Talmud, of which the one describes the general etiquette, the other that of sages…. According to some, it was not good breeding to speak while eating. The learned and most honoured occupied not only the chief places, but were sometimes distinguished by a double portion…. A guest should conform in everything to his host, even though it were unpleasant. Although hospitality was the greatest and most prized social virtue…an unbidden guest, or a guest who brought another guest, was proverbially an unwelcome apparition. Sometimes, by way of self-righteousness, the poor were brought in, and the best part of the meal ostentatiously given to them. At ordinary entertainments, people were to help themselves. It was not considered good manners to drink as soon as you were asked, but you ought to hold the cup for a little in your hand. But it would be the height of rudeness, either to wipe the plates, to scrape together the bread, as though you had not had enough to eat, or to drop it…. The marks of a Rabbi: that he does not eat standing; that he does not lick his fingers; that he sits down only beside his equals – in fact, many regarded it as wrong to eat with the unlearned….The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah
The externalism…will best appear from the following account which the Talmud gives of “a feast.” As the guests enter, they sit down on chairs, and water is brought to them, with which they wash one hand. After this the cup is taken, when each speaks the blessing over the wine partaken of before dinner. Presently they all lie down at table. Water is again brought them, with which they now wash both hands, preparatory to the meal, when the blessing is spoken over the bread, and then over the cup, by the chief person at the feast, or else by one selected by way of distinction. The company responded by Amen, always supposing the benediction to have been spoken by an Israelite, not a heathen, slave, nor law-breaker. Nor was it lawful to say it with an unlettered man, although it might be said with a Cuthæan (heretic, or else Samaritan), who was learned.The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah
When the water for purification was presented…[Jesus] would omit to do so, and sit down to meat without this formality…. The stress which Pharisaism laid on this rite…the controversy was long and bitter between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel, on…whether the hands were to be washed before the cup was filled with wine, or after that, and where the towel was to be deposited…. Jesus insisted…on that corruption of our nature which Judaism ignored, and on that spiritual purification which was needful…. He publicly…set aside ordinances of man…of the most childish character…what bitter thoughts must have filled the mind of the Pharisee…. It was an insult to himself…. Remembering that a Pharisee ought not to sit down to a meal with such, he might feel that he should not have asked Jesus to his tableThe Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah
We mark here a…development, as compared with the former occasion when Jesus had publicly spoken on the same subject (Matthew 15:1-9). Formerly, He had treated the ordinance of the Elders as a matter not binding; now, He showed how this externalism militated against thoughts of the internal and spiritual.The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah
May we learn the rather gentle start and progression that Christ demonstrated in introducing truth to others.