Thursday, 01 September 2011
The pharisees were a small, but vocal group of Jews in Jesus' time. They were known for following the Torah precisely; so much so that they would make up laws for the laws just so they wouldn't break one. It was all up to interpretation, really. For instance, what constituted as "work" on the sabbath? The tradition in which questions like these were interpreted was written in what is called the Talmud and the Midrashim.
Jesus accepted and followed the Torah, but rejected the Talmud and the Midrashim. We know this by the way he interpreted the law of Moses. He showed that at the very center of the Law wasn't pride, but love for one another and for God. This is something the Pharisees had a hard time understanding. They tended to be rather pompous when it came to following the Law. They walked around and condemned those who didn't commit themselves to it the way they did.
Jesus told a parable that ousted the Pharisees from their high horse. In this parable, he tells of a man, a pharisee, who went to pray at the temple. While there, he stood up and loudly proclaimed "Thank you Lord, that I am not like the other men- robbers, evil doer, adulterers- or even like the tax collectors! I fast two times a week and I tithe ten percent of everything that I make!"
There was a second man there, at the temple, who happened to be a tax collector. He stood far away, wouldn't even turn his eyes towards God, and as he sulked, he beat his chest and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Jesus said that it was the second man, not the first who went home, justified before God. To sum up the story, he said, "All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Jesus was clearly not impressed with the way the Pharisees handled the Law, nor themselves.
And yet, some things never change. I see many Christians exalting themselves over atheists and other non-believers. I even see Christians exalting themselves above other Christians. One thing Jesus made clear is that none of us are any different from each other. One who knows Jesus is in no way more moral than one who doesn't know Jesus. The difference is not in what we do, but in what Christ does in us.
It's amazing. When Jesus spoke to a certain group of Jews in his day, the message became timeless. As an exercise, read and consider the Seven Woes Jesus preaches. Much of it, we can still apply to many Christians today... It's funny... We Christians tend to look at the Pharisees as the bad guys in the bible... but it turns out, we too are the bad guys of the bible... We are exactly like them.
What fixes this problem?
The Pharisees and Sadducees got together to try to trap Jesus in his words. They asked him, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This answer would have been good enough for the Pharisees and Sadducees. They really believed they loved God. But Jesus took it a step further saying, "The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." This was an incredible revelation on Jesus' part. It shows that we can not possibly love God unless we are loving our neighbors too... this is what shows our love for God. And this, we have the tendency to turn upside down- making enemies with those who don't believe, condemning those who read scripture differently than us, exalting ourselves above others... This is what makes us modern day Pharisees. The solution to this problem, as Jesus has stated, is all held in the secret of love for God and love for others.
Are you a modern day Pharisee?