The Pharisees Observe Every Letter of the Law
The Pharisees were so afraid that the Jews might be exiled to Babylon again, that they thought if they kept every law, both the written laws of Moses and the oral traditional law of their ancestors, that God would keep them safe in Jerusalem.
They set themselves apart, not just from the Romans and other Gentiles, but also from other Jews, who they thought could make them unclean in the eyes of God by eating with them or touching them.
The Pharisees were neither priests nor teachers - many of them were probably small businessmen or craftspeople. They wore their hearts on their sleeves: they copied prayers and Bible passages and put them in boxes call phylacteries, which they wore bound on their forearms and their foreheads. Many of them did belong to the council of elders, or the Sanhedrin. Sometimes they were even in the majority.
The Pharisees liked to listen to Jesus, but they thought his ideas were too radical - he would talk to or eat with just anybody.
Jesus told them repeatedly that they kept the letter of the law, but lost the spirit; they made a show of loving God with their public prayers, but they didn't have compassion for people.
The Pharisees' spiritual descendants today are those people who make a public show of their holiness, but who don't hold God and all his people in their hearts.
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