In our readings from Matthew’s Gospel over the past few days we have come across a number of Our Lord’s complaints against the Pharisees, and to understand his bias against the Pharisees we should recall the history of how he got that way.
Language scholars who gave close study to Matthew’s Gospel have shown us how it contains vocabulary that didn‘t come into use until fifty years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. As well, scholars point to Matthew’s allusions to events that took place fifty years after Jesus was gone. They can assure us that Matthew’s Gospel was written after the year 81 a.d.. What is more, his Gospel stories reflect matters of great interest to Christians at that later date. Let’s look into those matters.
One of Our Lord’s Apostles was called Simon the Zealot. In Our Lord’s time Zealots were non-violent men who campaigned for a peaceful break from Rome. However, after the year 65 a.d. many of the Zealots became terrorists.
Those terrorists, carrying short knives called “shickas,” came to be known as the Shickarees. Holed up in Jerusalem, they took to ambushing and murdering the men of Roman patrols, and in the year 67 a.d. they drove the Roman forum to approve the draconian measure of completely destroying Jerusalem.
General Vespasian methodically circled the holy city with trenches. He set up catapults, and he dug down to cut off the water sources to their wells, and he blocked off all traffic in and out of Jerusalem Then, In 69 a.d. he was chosen as the new emperor, and he entrusted the destruction of Jerusalem to his son General Titus.
Locked into the city the Shickarees turned their violence against the Pharisees whom they hated for their having been on friendly terms with the Romans. That had the Pharisees striking a deal with Titus to allow them to leave the city for Jamnia, a property they had on the Mediterranean shore.
On hearing news of the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. those Pharisees began asking how they, a people devoted to temple worship, could survive as a religion. The conclusion they came to was that their orthodox Judaism was to be found in their complete observance of the Law of Moses, and their observance of the thousands of precepts they had added to the Law since the time of Moses.
In the year 80 a.d. the Pharisees at Jamnia began taking stock of the scattered Jews who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and they found that a third of those Jews had become Christians, while still priding themselves in being Jewish.
The official Pharisees at Jamnia began telling those Christians that since Jesus had eaten with sinners, not completely observing Kosher, he had actually been out to destroy the law and the Prophets.
That had Matthew writing his Gospel where Jesus said, “I have not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have come to fulfill them. In his Gospel Matthew recalled for us all that Jesus had said in the Sermon on the Mount, detailing how Jesus had taken the incomplete rulings of Moses, bringing them to beautiful fulfillment.