Article: I Don’t Want to be a Pharisee

I don’t want to be a Pharisee. You know, the religious authorities and teachers of the Law of Moses that Jesus tangled with during his earthly ministry. I know that may sound like a silly thing to say but the day I entered the seminary to become a pastor, I began my training as a religious authority… also known as a Pharisee. Of course, I am not Jewish, but I don’t want to be a Christian Pharisee either.

When we think about Jesus’ earthly ministry, it seems like the only people he had problems with were those who were in charge. Back then the Pharisees and the Chief Priests pretty much ruled the roost in Israel. They called the shots. You might be asking yourself, “What about the Romans who were occupying the land? Weren’t they in charge?” They were, but the day-to-day activities of the average person living in Israel were governed by the Pharisees. People tried to avoid the Roman soldiers at all costs.

If we are to believe the gospels, which I do, most of the religious leaders of that day cared more about themselves than they did about the people under their charge. They were supposedly the most learned and the most religious, yet Jesus pointed out time and time again that their actions were contrary to the will of God. In other words, they were hypocrites.

In one poignant moment, Jesus said this, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23

Jesus called them out for doing things for appearances only and missing the things that God cared about most: justice, mercy and faithfulness. Wow. I don’t want to be the one who does things for appearances or just to be liked. I don’t want to appear religious (I’ve already blown that) and neglect the things that really matter to God.

I have said this hundreds of times, but it is still true in regard to mercy, “I would rather have Jesus tell me on judgment day that I was too easy on people than have him say- why were you so hard on people and kept them from truly knowing me.” Jesus showed mercy to all who were not sure that God cared about them because of their decisions or status in life.

I still want to grow in my faith. I do not believe I will ever arrive at the destination of “enough faith.” I want to surround myself with people who also want to grow in their faith and I continue to be open to God’s guiding hand in my life.

Jesus uses the word “justice” too. There is more than one word in the original Greek that translates as “justice” in English. This word (krisis) actually means the ability to discern right from wrong so as to judge a case or a matter. Jesus is saying the religious authorities (Pharisees) lack the discernment between right and wrong.

For example, in Mark 7:10-13 Jesus says, “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ n and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 

That is fairly direct. Don’t miss the last line. This isn’t only about caring for parents; this is one example among many. In this case, money took precedent over people. They didn’t have the ability to see what God values most: people. Not money, not prestige or respect, not even power.

Our God cares about people. God sent Himself in the person of Jesus to draw people close to Him. Jesus took time to correct the misperceptions about the nature of God because the people representing Him (the Pharisees and the Chief Priests) cared more about themselves than they did about the people under their charge. But it wasn’t just a few people. It was the entire nation of Israel.

Jesus called them out for being unjust, unmerciful and unfaithful. Jesus showed us who matters in the Kingdom of God: tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Jesus reminded us that neglecting others who struggle (including parents) isn’t God’s way of doing things.

Like I said, I don’t want to be a Pharisee. I want to follow Jesus and His teachings until I can sit at his feet and see him face to face.

Yes, I know. The things Jesus said eventually got him killed… and most of his disciples too. I guess that is a risk I am willing to take.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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