In this section we read of some events that occurred after Jesus accepted an invitation to dine with a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the main men of the conservative religious scene among the Jews. Jesus accepted this invitation in order to have an occasion to reveal and rebuke their sinfulness. These sins of the Pharisees are also things that we should be on watch for in our lives, and may be things that we need to repent of.
The first incident involved Jesus's refusal to perform the ceremonial handwashing. Jesus didn't do this in order to provoke a confrontation and to engage the Pharisees. He wanted to discuss their underlying sin: hypocracy, putting on an outward show in order to hide what was true inwardly.
They loved to be seen by men, to be well thought of; they treated others as the rabble. They were the academia, the elite. They would tithe minute amounts, but they left the weighter parts of the law undone. They should have been humble, loving, merciful -- all about equality, realizing we are all equal under the love of God.
Next (v45), the lawyers -- the experts on Jewish law -- get alarmed, saying, "Hey! When you say that about the Pharisees, you're insulting us, too!" And Jesus replies, "Woe to you lawyers as well!" The lawyers claimed to honor the prophets who had come before Jesus, but the reality was that they were continuing the tradition of their fathers -- to persecute and kill the true prophets.
These lawyers had the key (the Scriptures) to bring men to God. They were the experts on the Law and the prophets. But they didn't make anything clearer; rather, they hindered those who would enter in, those who were actually seeking God. They put themselves in the place of Christ, telling men, "If you do these things, you will be right with God." This is much like what the Roman Catholic Church does today!
Jesus is making it clear that this religion and nation were going to be destroyed! Yet God, in His mercy, gave them another 40 years after the time of Christ to repent.
In seeing these woes leveled at the hypocritical Pharisees, we should look at ourselves, seeking to purify ourselves and root out all that needs to be changed.
Does our living match up to our teaching? Do we forgive those who have hurt us? Are we helping others to come to Christ through our life or teaching, or are we hindering them? Are we really different from the world? Have we confronted sin in others, and did we do it in love, with the right motive?
Finally, we see the response of the Pharisees -- unbridled anger. If you have accurately proclaimed the gospel, you will receive one of two responses: repentance and faith, or wrath and rejection. There is no middle ground!