Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
We see the Pharisees through a very different lens than the audience of Jesus’ day saw them.
To us they are the cruel perfections, constantly bearing down upon the weak and immoral. The are the images of an angry, unfair God who has no love for people; only a fiery passion for rule following.
But the majority of early Israel admired them. They were heroes in the eyes of the people. The centuries leading up to the time of Jesus were flooded with strife and political chaos. The people saw this as a judgment from God, in light of their Old Testament writings. It was their punishment for failing to follow God’s rules. Something had to change, they had to find a way to get back on track. Enter the Pharisees. These individuals came onto the scene with a passion to set the nation aright so that they could come under God’s good graces once again.
The people admired their commitment, even if they could not copy it, and saw these men as their hope to restoring their blessings from God. The Pharisees believed that if every law was followed to the letter God would have no choice but to restore them. And so following the law came at whatever cost. The people willingly entered this sort of suffering, a temporary burden, in order that they might enjoy life to the fullest someday.
Then Jesus showed up and everything changed. He challenged their notions not only of their practices but of the law and of God himself. He dug into the heart of the law, something they had never attempted to do, and showed that in following every letter they had completely missed the point – the beautification of community, to love God and people.
Jesus was a rebel. He represented everything the Pharisees were against and everything the people feared. He was a man on mission for God but untamed by the law, a dangerous combination.
Jesus knew God in a different sort of way. There was an intimacy when he spoke about his Father that was completely foreign to his audience. Who is this God that pays attention so closely? Who is this God that accepts the unacceptable and who mars himself for the sake of others?
Jesus’ entire life was a living parable the Pharisees could not understand. They had so fashioned God in their own image that they could not recognize the real thing when he appeared.