As we have seen, Jesus first antagonised the Temple authorities by removing the traders from the Temple, thus affecting their profits. Now he had antagonised the more strict Pharisees (as opposed to men like Gamaliel) who followed Jesus about, by refusing to be bound by their interpretation of the Law of God.
The Jews held firmly to the Law of God (the first five books of the Old Testament), and the Pharisees, who had gained their reputation by resisting, often heroically, those who had sought to water it down for political reasons, were looked on as experts in the Law.
Their leading teachers (the Scribes of the Pharisees) had built up a whole mass of interpretations of the Law (over 600) which they expected the Jews to obey, and strove with might and main to obey them themselves. Many of these were connected with ritual washings.
As with much else, what began as a genuine attempt to help the people understand what was required of them, had grown into an impossible burden. They were tied down by tiny details, laid down as the letter of the Law. If men failed to keep up with all the requirements they were looked on as ‘sinners’ and ‘unclean’.
Yet in their attention to detail they had overlooked the requirements of compassion and mercy. In the words of Jesus, ‘they strained out a gnat, and swallowed a camel’.
Jesus went about trying to correct some of their interpretations, and was thus infuriating the more hidebound. He did so picturesquely, by using the Jewish method of deliberate exaggeration. (We must not take everything literally, but ask what Jesus meant by it).
But he also did it with authority. In a day when teachers sought to attach their teaching to a great name, Jesus said authoritatively, “I say to you ---”.
People gathered to Jesus from many places, from Jerusalem, Idumaea, Transjordan and Tyre and Sidon, because they had heard of the wonderful things that he did.
So he taught them saying, “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law. I have not come to destroy it, but to bring it to full effect. For I tell you with great emphasis, that until Heaven and earth have passed away not the smallest bit will be take from it, until it has been completely fulfilled.”
“Whoever, therefore, breaks even the most unimportant of these commands, and teaches men to do the same, will be looked on as least important under God’s Rule. While whoever does and teaches them will be looked on as great under God’s Rule.”
“Indeed, let me tell you that unless the righteousness of your lives is greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not even be allowed to enter under the Rule of God.”
“Men of old told you, ‘do not kill, for whoever kills will be in danger of being tried and condemned’. But I tell you that whoever is angry with another unnecessarily is in danger of being tried and condemned. Whoever derides another will be in danger of being brought before the supreme court. While he who writes another off will be in danger of being thrown on the eternally burning rubbish heap.”
“So if you bring your gift to God, and there remember that someone has something against you, first go and be reconciled with him, and then come and offer your gift.”
“Agree with a legal opponent before you come before the court, in case your adversary is successful and you find yourself sentenced and punished, and discover that it costs you everything you have.”
“Men of old told you, ‘you shall not make love to another man’s wife’, but I tell you that whoever deliberately feeds his desires by watching a married woman, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“If your right eye causes you to do wrong, pluck it out and throw it as far from you as possible, for it is better for you if one part of you is destroyed rather than that the whole of you is thrown on the eternal rubbish dump. And if your right hand causes you to do wrong, cut it off and toss it away. It is better for you to lose one part of you rather than that the whole of you be tossed on the eternal rubbish dump.”
“Learned men of old told you, ‘if you wish to rid yourself of your wife, divorce her’, but I tell you that he who divorces his wife for anything other than sexual impropriety is forcing her to become an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman is himself committing adultery.”
“Again learned men of old told you, ‘do not bind yourself by swearing by “yourself”, your oaths should be sworn before God’. But I tell you, you should not need to bind yourself by any oath. Do not swear an oath at all, either by Heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by earth, for it is His footrest. Nor should you swear by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not even swear by your head, for you cannot change the makeup of a single hair. Rather simply say ‘yes’ when you mean yes, and ‘no’ when you mean no. Anything further is a sign of ill intent.”
“It has been said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you, do not try to get your own back. If someone slaps your right cheek, turn the other to him as well, and if a man sues you for your overcoat, give him your jacket as well. If someone demands his rights of you, give him more than his rights.”
“If anyone needs money, give it to him. And if someone needs to borrow from you, do not turn your back on him.”
“You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbour and hate only your enemy’, but I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who use you badly or persecute you.”
“Then you will be true children of your Father in Heaven, for He makes the sun rise on the good and the bad, and sends His rain on the just and the unjust.”
“If you only love those who love you, what reward do you deserve? Don’t even the worst kind of men do the same? And if you only acknowledge your friends, how are you different from everyone else? Don’t the worst types of men do the same? So be perfect, just like your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
He went on preaching many things, and when he had finished he went to a hill in the locality to pray, and spent the night there in prayer, after which he called his close followers together and chose out twelve of them to be his assistant preachers. He called these, ‘apostles’. They included Simon Peter, James and John the sons of Zebedee, and Levi the tax collector whom he renamed Matthew.