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It would’ve been hard to be a Pharisee sitting in the audience of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Again and again Christ seemed to deliberately antagonize any religious leaders listening to his teaching—singling them out, calling them unflattering names, and mocking them with increasingly absurd insults.

Matthew 7:3-5 records another example of this kind of rhetoric. Teaching on proper judgment, Jesus addressed Pharisees directly, expressing incredulous hyperbole at their individual and collective arrogance: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (verse 3).

That line would have elicited a few chuckles and raised a few eyebrows in the crowd on the mountainside. Christ’s words were a harsh attack, a satirical insult that openly mocked the highest leaders in the Jewish nation. Pharisees of that time denounced all kinds of minor failings in others, yet turned a blind eye to the major moral flaws of their own religious elite. Jesus accused them of being both blind and stupid, and even worse, play-actors in a religious game (i.e, “You hypocrite…” in Matthew 7:5).

How could a Pharisee not be offended by that kind of sermon? Wouldn’t you be angry if your pastor spoke that way about you?

It’s difficult to understand why Jesus chose this scorched-earth rhetorical approach toward his enemies among the religious elite. After all, he demonstrated profound grace and patience toward other sinners. Yet it was the appropriate choice at the appropriate time, likely winning common people to his cause and also prompting the Pharisees to move forward the machinations of his atoning execution. In other words, Jesus knew what he was doing, and why.

The temptation for us today is to assume we too have Jesus’ divine authority to insult and verbally demean any we view as our enemies. Before we try to imperfectly emulate the harsh rhetorical style that Jesus was able to use perfectly, we’d be wise to heed his rebuke to the Pharisees:

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…”

 

Works Cited:

[IB8, 125-126]

 

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About: Mike Nappa

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