It could have been jealousy. Or maybe they just felt threatened. Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.
You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life. But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done. People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way. That had to make them green with envy.
And, yes, they probably felt threatened. The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve.
But how had they gotten here, how did they lose the way? Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love. That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow, the laws and rules became more important than the love.
The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long. Jesus wanted to make manifest God’s love, forgiveness of sins, and true healing. It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by legalism. That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross. He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live. As the Psalmist reminds us today: Praise the Lord!