Offence (Matthew 15:12)

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Jesus has made another statement that clearly reveals the Pharisees as having   misinterpreted God’s Word. “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 

How could the Pharisees not be offended? They had studied God’s Word as their career. They had dedicated their whole lives to a cause they deeply believed in – that God’s ancient Word was better understood through the established tradition of hundreds of years of Jewish religious leadership. Then, along comes this upstart Rabbi, who is telling them to their faces that they have it wrong. In doing so, he is not just insulting them, but all those upon whom their careers stood. Jesus is effectively saying that Jewish leadership has been wrong for generations. As one commentator put it, “…what was so intolerable to these self-appointed leaders of the people was the fact that Jesus took this leadership from them and here taught the people the direct opposite of what they had taught.” 

Would we not similarly be offended? If a visiting minister were to come to our church and teach the congregation the exact opposite point to the last sermon series, it would be profoundly embarrassing for church leadership. More than embarrassing, it would be profoundly offensive. 

Ironically, the disciples are likely offending Jesus even in making that observation. Of course He is aware. Jesus is God the Son – He was not unaware of what He was doing. He deliberately said what He said, where He said it and purposefully said it to whom He knew was listening. 

Recall that the Pharisees in question were the ‘big guns’ from Jerusalem who had been called in by the locals to help deal with this young upstart, who seemed to have a solid rebuttal for every argument leadership brought to him. Knowing they think they are wise in their own eyes, Jesus has deliberately punched a huge hole in their worldview. Confronted by them about the importance of washing one’s hands prior to eating, Jesus deliberately uses the fifth commandment to demonstrate their hypocrisy. Then He brings to them a charge made by Isaiah – someone they no doubt studied at great length but never applied what he wrote to themselves. To top it off, in a single sentence He does the very thing the Pharisees prided themselves on being able to do, but were not doing at all; He teaches the crowd the profound truth of the spiritual nature of Mosaic law. 

Our sense of offence is a lot like our sense of pain. It is there to alert us to something that – should we not take immediate corrective action – will truly hurt us. Except where our sense of pain alerts us to outside threats, a sense of offence alerts us to an internal threat. Offence is a call to examine why we feel offended. 

As every painful impulse, it is a call to move from our present position. As every emotional impulse, it is a call to prayer. How much more then, when it is the Lord’s own Word that offends us? 

Be offended with God, and you will be offended with everyone who crosses your path.

Elizabeth Elliot

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

Someone once said that if God never does anything that upsets, frustrates and confuses you, then you are not looking at Him – you are looking at a mirror.