The religious elite had created a sys- tem of moral respectability that only the wealthy could ever hope to maintain. Only the rich had the time and money to do all the required ritual cleansing. You can’t be ritually clean in a slum. This was bourgeois spirituality. We can do this too. Our expectations of clothing, behavior, literacy, and punctuality can exclude the poor. These verses also speak to a professionalized church ministry—a life seen as the epitome of godliness, but all but impossible for those not in full-time ministry.
The teachers of the law created a system that allowed them to feel superior, and then lifted not one finger to help others. Think how this might play out today. Today’s Pharisees might condemn the poor for their dysfunctional families, but lift not one finger to help. Today’s Pharisees might condemn the poor for their excessive drinking, but lift not one finger to ease their pain. Today’s Pharisees might condemn the poor for their laziness, but lift not one finger to provide employment. Today’s Pharisees might condemn the poor for their abortions, but lift not one finger to adopt unwanted children. I’m not defending dysfunctional families, drunkenness, and so on. But we can’t condemn these things at a distance. That’s legalism. We must come alongside, proclaiming and demonstrating the transforming grace of God.
- Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table, p. 22