In Jesus day, the Old Testament scriptures had been interpreted very legalistically. Things were spelled out to take out all of the guess work about what it meant to obey (and what counted as sin).
According to the Talmud, the 6,200 page rabbinical commentary on the Old Testament, there are 613 mitzvot (“commandments”) in the Torah. There are 248 positive mitzvot and 365 negative mitzvot given supplemented by seven mitzvot legislated by the rabbis of antiquity.
This is the world of Jesus. There were religious/political sects that were self-appointed guardians of the law who commented even further on it, turning it into a straitjacket that addressed ridiculous minutia, like how far you could walk on the Sabbath without it being counted as work and therefore violating the Sabbath.
Jesus accused them of making converts to themselves and not being a part of his kingdom. He called them whitewashed tombs, blind guides, and hypocrites. He hated that they put people into bondage and took advantage of them. They were always trying to trap Jesus and get him into trouble with their convoluted questions, but always failed to outsmart him.
He never seemed to miss an opportunity to butt heads with these people. You need to remember they were the most respected and, supposedly, holiest people in the country.
Why did he dislike them so much? They misrepresented the faith, turning a relationship with God into an intricate list of ridiculous, impossible rules. They hurt people by misleading them and taking advantage of them financially, while regarding themselves as models of righteousness.
Today, some Christians still rant against liberals, gays, abortionists, and anyone who makes them feel a little uncomfortable. They hate it when people say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas”. They complain about the U.S. becoming a secular country and abandoning its Christian heritage.
If Jesus walked the earth today, he would let the president alone, but he would probably hammer some televangelists and others who are heavily vested into the religious structure that heaps guilt and duty on people to take advantage of them.
Money and power corrupt people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a city councilman, a pastor, or the president of the United States. Once people get a taste of power, they fight to hang onto it. Certainly, not every politician or religious official is corrupt, but their temptation is very real and very subtle.
The church has done a great job of teaching that it and its leaders are sacrosanct, and by “the church,” they always mean their church and the way they do church. There is nothing in Jesus’ teaching or the New Testament to support this view. They usually misapply something from the Old Testament when Israel was a theocracy and try to apply it to the church to make their case. Some churches would not go so far as to outright teach that the church and its leaders are sacrosanct. Instead they listen only to the views of like-minded leadership team members and disregard any divergent views.
You have probably heard the expression, “Speak truth to power.” It’s a good thing to do, especially in America, where citizen activism is a part of our foundation. It is also a good thing to do within the church. If we love the church, we will speak up when we see it misrepresenting Christ.
“Speaking truth to power” has its costs. You will be branded a troublemaker and someone who is angry at the church. Do it anyway! I don’t mean become a chronic complainer, because anyone can do that. Instead speak from a loving heart and be willing to be a part of the solution.
From my soon to be published book, An Irreligious Faith.