"Look…. Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"
What was the motivation for this vicious resistance to Jesus? It is easy to condemn the Pharisees as self-righteous villains, and some were, but really, that *spirit is at work in all of us. The Pharisees suffer from the universal human problem: sin. Humans make bad choices and do bad things. We freely choose to sin. Humans are also broken. Our nous/mind is prone to error. Our wounded hearts cause relational disorder. Our unconscious fear, despair and anger spill out in dysfunctional ways. Religious faith can simply become a cover to avoid facing our deepest hurts and insecurities. Instead of repentance or crying out for healing, we become abusive, attempting to control God and others.
The Pharisees wanted to be holy, yet many were blind to Jesus, the Holy One of God among them. In their fervor for the Torah, they read selectively, forgetting that the purpose of God's law was to heal and save people. Instead of embracing salvation, they became self-appointed legalist enforcers, and in the process they cut themselves off from the Lord of Salvation. This is a warning to each of us. Everyone is at risk of losing God for the sake of their beliefs. Legalism takes many shapes and disguises*.
The human condition is the problem. Our beliefs are infected by the darkness of sin. Our wounded hearts are ruled by passions which blind us. We are afraid; so we try to control. We project onto others what is wrong within us. We are frustrated and angry so we become petty and cruel. Life is hard and we need to feel safe, so we each find our own way to do "the Pharisee thing." Or worse, in an effort to not be Pharisees, we negate spiritual discipline and ignore Jesus' concrete teaching, falsely claiming that God has no expectations about such things.
What to do? Let us hear the text. Jesus starts with human need. We must see the image of God in others. Poor people getting a morsel of food should not be condemned by others for breaking a law that was given in response to human need. Sabbath rest is not an excuse for doing nothing in the face of suffering and human need. Jesus does not advocate lawlessness, He often deepens the demands of Torah. God's will for all people is health and salvation. Humans need nutrition and physical healing. They also need spiritual healing--freedom from sin, freedom from the false mind and freedom from the sinful passions. Jesus did not throw the Torah away. What Jesus said was, "is it right to do good on the Sabbath or evil?" We know the answer, now let's do it.
*after writing this I read the following, which illustrates the pharisaical spirit in a non-religious setting. http://thefederalist.com/2018/06/01/white-privilege-become-religion-complete-church-ladies/
"Ignorance of this religious dimension leaves the adherents of woke social justice especially prone to the pitfalls that the traditionally religious are familiar with. Many stumble. They become the preachers and church ladies of wokeness: smug, sanctimonious, uncharitable and unforgiving — always ready to take offense and call someone out. And there is no shortage of people willing to undertake the task. What are we to make of the priests of this harsh religion?"