The writer of Hebrews looks back at something he talked about earlier with a view toward clarification. In Hebrews 4, he mentioned that Jesus is not so distant from us that he can’t sympathize with our situation. He feels our struggles and our pain.  He was fully human and could relate completely. Each high priest had to be able to relate to the people not only in their life struggles, but in their failures and sins. The high priest in Israel should be tender and gentle with sinners. Hebrews 5:2 says that because he is one of them, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” Of course this was not the case with the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They insisted on stoning a woman found in adultery. They wanted to banish Jesus for violating the Sabbath and were always accusing Jesus and his followers for breaking their laws. When Jesus healed sinners, the religious leaders had no compassion. They only looked on with condemnation and judgment.

The Lawyers and Religious leaders did not deal “gently” with sinners. They were harsh and demanding on the people just as the Old Testament prophets predicted. Jeremiah spoke of the “shepherds” of Israel and said, “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:2).  Jesus confronted them because “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4).

Jesus’ strongest words were not to sinners but to the religious leaders of His day. He called them snakes, whitewashed tombs rotten on the inside, hypocrites, and only out for what they could get, be it wealth or position. Yet he was always trying to bring them to repentance. He wanted them to understand their own failures and sins so they could deal more compassionately with others. He told them the law against murder is violated by their own hatred. He said their lusting is a violation of the law against adultery. He called them to give up everything if they wanted to follow Him hoping it would open their eyes to their own sinfulness. What Jesus wanted them to give up wasn’t their wealth, position or privileges. He wanted them to give up their religion. But they couldn’t do it! It’s no different today. The hardest thing to give up for Jesus, and the only thing He really wants, is for us to give up our religion and trust completely in Him.