Tag Archive: Pharisees


love1

As a follower of Jesus, this really is my mantra. Love one another. This is how you will be known to be My [Jesus] disciples, if you have love one for another.

When i spend a decent amount of time online challenging people about their beliefs and actions, this often comes to mind. After all the church has a pretty bad history of typically being known more for what we are against than what we are for and so i don’t want to add to that. Especially when we are for such great stuff. Loving God, loving people, looking after the least of these, caring for widows and orphans, welcoming the marginalised, being pro all aspects of life, sharing what we have with the stranger, forgiving our enemies and showering them with love.

So when i find myself writing a post that is a little more tongue in cheek and contains the phrase ‘stupid people’ a whole lot, i think about it a lot. When i engage in yet another online dispute about racism or privilege or why it is never cool to make jokes using the word ‘rape’ or reducing it to something describing a much lesser thing that went wrong in your day, i check myself. Am i spending as much time and more championing things which bring people together, which build community, which encourage people to get involved with the poor and marginalised. Don’t get caught up in the mud flinging.

i saw this cartoon today and i really liked it:

Jesus

i think it is the patience of Jesus here that i love the most. No matter how many times i don’t ‘get’ it, Jesus takes time with me helping me to see the error of my ways, bringing me lovingly back to ‘You will be known by the love you have…’

But then i am also reminded of the time Jesus goes completely off at the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

i love the trailer to His rant, found in verse 3:

So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

That seems to say it all, right. “Jesus, i think you covered it all right there. Let’s go get lunch.” But He doesn’t.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

“Blind Fools”… “Blind Guides”… “Hypocrites”… “Whitewashed tombs”… “Snakes. Brood of vipers.”

If this was a modern day setting you can imagine Jesus dropping the mic and walking off stage. Oh, and just a reminder that these are the religious leaders of the day – so the pastors and reverends and very reverends and bishops etc.

And this is not an isolated event. When a woman is brought in front of Him to be stoned, Jesus tosses it back at them – “Go for it. Whichever of you has not sinned, you throw the first rock.” Everyone leaves.

When His disciples are fighting amongst themselves about who is greatest or who will rule alongside Him on His throne one day He calls them out in front of the group and embarrasses them.

At one point He gives a teaching so controversial or difficult to obey that everyone except for the close disciples leaves and stops following Him.

FIND THE BALANCE

Jesus saved His strongest words for those who followed Him, and while i am clearly not Jesus, i feel like i do that pretty well too. It is typically the christians getting pissed off with me on Facebook [which feels great when it’s issues of poverty and race and injustice, but less great when it’s about football salaries and movie pirating and content of tv shows although i tend to stay more out of most of those these days] and getting defensive and more.

And i’m okay with that. i hope people that don’t follow Jesus feel loved by me. i hope they feel safe. i hope i am someone they will call when their faeces has been furiously flung into a nearby fan. Oh, i also admire alliteration, apparently. i hope they expect that i will answer and come rushing.

i don’t see myself as ‘The Internet Police’ just as Jesus probably didn’t see Himself as ‘The Temple Police’… but when He saw people abusing their authority He went off… when He saw people practising extortion in a place meant for prayer He went a little ballistic… when He saw someone responding to a serious challenge and call to self-reflection on Facebook with a cheap and trite metaphorical saying that even the guy who came up with it probably didn’t understand then He went off… oh wait, that one was not Him, that was me. But i like to think He would have smiled and possibly even liked my comeback that involved the phrase “Christmas cracker inserts”.

Or not. He may not have. That might have been one time when i got it wrong. i will keep reflecting on where, what and how i engage. But i won’t keep quiet when it feels like words are needed. And in the background, all the time, i will be repeating my mantra over and over to myself.

love2

[For Ten Different Ways of Loving Well, click here]

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book

i am busy reading this book, that my friend Steve Graybill sent to me while we were in Americaland [after i asked for one of the books he had recently read that was worth reading] and it has been such an interesting read. Steve was the one who recommended ‘The Lemon Tree’ and ‘Blood Brothers’ which i gave a glimpse of over here, as i was trying to understand the Palestinian/Israeli crisis a little bit better. This is more of a theological/discussion book whereas the other two were stories and so a little easier to connect with in some ways. But there has been some very interesting thinking generated by this book – i’m not sure i agree with everything Naim Stifan Ateek says, but some very challenging ideas for sure [the proposal that Samson was the first ‘suicide bomber’ for example, really stopped me in my tracks, because…]

But without doubt the section of the book i really enjoyed and found interesting was this passage from a chapter entitled ‘Son of David or Suffering Servant’ which looks at four groups of people and how they responded to the Roman occupation at the time Jesus lived and how He chose a path different to all of them. It is a bit of a lengthy post but it is SO good, so make some time and dive in… The following section is from the book:

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“BIBLICAL CONTEXT

In the first century Jesus was born under the Roman occupation of His home country of Palestine. In fact, He lived all His life under the Empire and was killed in the end by the occupying forces. As a young man, Jesus, as well as many others in His generation, was attracted by different movements and groups within His society. Each had a basic philosophy about life and God, and each movement had its advocates and proponents as well as its adversaries and opponents.

For many centuries people in Palestine lived their entire lives under the Roman Empire. It was not a benevolent occupation. Any occupation is by nature oppressive because it refuses to grant people freedom and liberation. To a large extent, the options and choices that Jesus faced are still present in our different societies. While other comparisons are equally valid, our focus here compares the groups of Jesus’ time with their counterparts in Palestine today.

These groups arise from our basic nature as human beings and our propensity to relate to people of power, especially in situations where people live under foreign occupation. This was as true for the people of Jesus’ time who lived under Roman occupation as it is for Palestinians today who live under Israeli occupation.

The Zealots

Without doubt, the group most attractive to many young people in Jesus’ day was the Zealots. They were the revolutionaries who believed that the only way to relate to the occupation of their country by the Romans was through armed struggle. The model of violent struggle was not foreign to them; there was a strong tradition for such action. The most recent paradigm was that of the Maccabees who had risen up against the Greek occupation of their country and won their independence. In Jesus’ time, in their struggle against the Romans who had usurped control of their country, the Zealots used the tools of revolutionary violence, countering violence with violence. They believed that their god would fight for them in their righteous struggle.

There were some more extreme factions within the Zealot movement. The Sicarii not only killed their Roman enemies but were ready to assassinate any fellow Jews suspected of collaboration with the Romans. And all of this was done in the name of God.

Scholars tell us it is likely that a number of the disciples of Jesus were Zealot revolutionaries. They saw in Him a leader who could command a great following and contribute to the liberation of the country. There are references in the Gospels that indicate such a temptation. John 6.15 offers an example: “When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” Yet Jesus constantly rejected such temptations throughout His ministry, from the temptations of the devil’s offer of the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4.5-8) to the cries of the crowd to make Jesus king when He entered Jerusalem near the end of His life (John 12.12-19). The political language of these passages indicates that Jesus could have seized several opportunities to incite a mass insurrection against the Romans, which surely would have involved armed resistance.

The temptation to join the Zealots would have been very real because they shared many of the same goals as Jesus and His disciples. Jesus shared their concern for the poor, and their passion for justice. They were both very committed to the cause, even to the point of death. Roman suspicion that Jesus was a Zealot certainly played a major role in His death.

Today in Palestine the equivalent to the Zealots are groups like Hamas and Al-jihad Al-islami. They believe in revolutionary violence as the means to counteract Israeli state violence and force the Israeli army to end its occupation. They, too, are disciplined and committed to the cause of justice for their fellow Palestinians and have been very compassionate toward the poor and needy in their communities.

The Essenes

This group, disenchanted with the religious system of Jerusalem, left their towns and villages and withdrew into the desert. In the desert, they established communities, busied themselves in copying different texts of the Old Testament scriptures, and developed rules for the daily life of their communities. They avoided involvement with what went on outside.

The Essenes represented an escape from the reality of life, an escape that is still attractive to many people today. This option was open to Jesus: “He could have withdrawn from the tensions and conflicts of the urban center where government and commerce constantly polluted even the most well-intentioned sons and daughters of the law; He could  have sought out a place where He could be pure and perfectly faithful.” Such an approach of escape or isolation can take various forms. People do not have to be enclosed within a monastery to live this way, although some do. Some people emigrate from the area of conflict, leaving everything behind. Others escape by totally withdrawing even within their community, living in isolation from the daily affairs of life.

The Herodians and Sadducees

These were the pragmatists and realists. The Herodians supported King Herod, believing it better to give allegiance to the king who was closer to kin than the alien Romans. The wealthy and conservative Sadducees controlled the temple in Jerusalem and benefitted immensely from it.They stayed on good terms with the people of power to expedite and facilitate daily solutions to contentious problems. They accepted the political situation in Palestine and to a larger extent collaborated with it. They believed that since they could not change the occupation of their country, they might as well not only with it but make the best of it. They made sure that worship in the temple was conducted properly and that nothing should disturb it.

In the conflict over Palestine, many Palestinians have arrived at such realism, accepting the Israeli occupation of their country. In order to advance their business activities or for reasons of prestige, they have allowed themselves to get close to the power and cooperated with the occupation. In some cases their pragmatism has taken on a more sinister aspect, becoming blatant collaboration.

The Pharisees

These were religious fanatics who adhered to the letter of the law. Although the word “pharisee” means separatist, they lived among the people in the village and urban centers of the land, yet separated themselves from anything that in their opinion would defile them. They prided themselves in keeping the purity of the law in meticulous detail as regards eating and drinking, keeping the Sabbath, and many other aspects of daily life. Jesus criticised them for payiing attention to the minute details of the law yet forgetting the more important issues of life such as justice, faith, and mercy (see Matt.23).

The Pharisees comprise a sizable segment of our communities; regardless of the political environment, they continue to practice the rituals and ceremonies of their religion while ignoring the “weightier matters” of justice and love (Matt. 23.23; Luke 11.42). Many cling to the observance of the laws and regulations of religion because they have defined religion in terms of strict adherence to the teachings of the church, mosque, or synagogue regarding worship, fasting, feast days, and so on.

THE NEW WAY OF JESUS

These four options that confronted Jesus confront us today.People are attracted to one or another of them. Many societies offer similar options or philosophies of life that appeal to our human nature. We are always challenged by the “righteous” violence of revolutions, or by escapism and isolationism, or by pragmatism and realism, or by established and popular religion. Each has its attraction, and Jesus must have realised that.

But Jesus chose another way, a way that draws on the best that these paradigms can offer and yet takes religion and faith to a deeper dimension. This is the way of faithfulness to God. Jesus rejected the way of violent revolution and refused to walk the way of collaboration. He would not accept the option to escape life and be uninvolved, and He saw the pitfalls of superficial religiosity where observance and rituals replace morality and authentic relationship with God.

What is the way of Jesus? It is the way of allegiance to God’s kingdom. The way of Jesus is (1) to stand for justice and truth without picking up the sword – that is, to resist evil without using evil methods; (2) to rise above the ways of the world without abandoning involvement and commitment to the poor and oppressed; (3) to seek the humanity of the oppressor without losing integrity by appeasement or collaboration; and (4) to love and worship God without adhering to a strict and closed religion.

Jesus presented God as a loving father/mother who loves and cares for all people equally, a God who is just and merciful. He called into being a distinct community whose basic rule of life is love: the love of God, God’s unconditional love of humans, and the inclusive love of neighbour that denies boundaries. He inspired His disciples to walk a path of nonviolence and to accept God’s will and rule over their life. Jesus asked His community to be salt and light to all those around them. He modelled His understanding of nonviolence as a path that must be followed even if it leads to suffering and death. And Jesus showed that a person can, at one and the same time, live in the world, in the midst of community and serve it and heal it, without conforming to the ways of the world. This is the sabeel of Jesus.

Could Jesus have looked at the availability of these four ways of life and decided not to choose any of them? He must have seen that none of them agreed with the heart of the faith tradition.. He must have felt that while each contained some attractive features, on the whole they strayed from the essence of faith.

He did not choose the way of armed struggle, which later ended disastrously for the Jewish people with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. He did not choose collaboration with the occupying forces, which was a life of deception and destructive to one’s soul. He did not choose escape into the desert, but sought involvement with the poor and wretched of His time. And while Jesus instructed His followers in prayer, He did not choose religiosity, often used to disguise a lack of faith. He chose a different way.

Perhaps Jesus looked back at His tradition of faith. The exile, several hundred years earlier, did not end the suffering and misery of His people. The strong empires of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia had been replaced by even greater Greek and Roman empires. The people still longed for liberation. Such a passion for freedom seems natural. People talked about their religious tradition that referred to the coming of a messiah who would provide redemption and liberation. The fervour for the coming of such a person must be understood against the conditions of their miserable existence. Jesus surely must have been aware of the many so-called messiahs who had come and gone and yet no liberation had been achieved.”

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This is really just a taste, and if you are trying to get your head around the severely complicated context of everything happening in that area of the Middle East, this is a book worth checking out.

this has been quite an eventful week.

WORLD VISION AND SAME SEX MARRIAGE

World Vision made a dramatic did-they-really-not-expect-the-reaction-it-got decision involving allowing employees to be in same-sex marriages.

the Evangelical response was strong with notable Christian speakers such as John Piper and Franklin Graham speaking out against the decision and many Christians apparently withdrawing support for World Vision and specifically for the children they support via World Vision.

a day or two later World Vision does a wibbly-wobbly and reverses their decision with president Rich Stearns answering some questions about the matter which included the fact that some of their staff had resigned because of stress:

We had a few in the past few days resigned partially because of stress. You can imagine some of the folks in our call center that our answering our 800 line. They’re receiving an earful of anger. I think we had a few people who couldn’t handle the stress and the anxiety created by the incoming calls.

the decision being reversed also had a dramatic impact on the organisation:

Within an hour of the reversal, the call volume dropped. The angry calls stopped and dropped to a much lower level. Some of the sponsors called back to reinstate their sponsorships.

The Twitterer was on fire with every well-known Christian writer/speaker/blogger having something to say including Rachel Held Evans:

I have never in my life been more angry at the Church or more embarrassed to be a Christian. It feels like a betrayal from every side.

ABORTION

meanwhile, on the other side of town, i posted a story from my friend, Irma, as part of the Taboo Topics section of my blog, on the topic of abortion, where there were special circumstances with both of the babies she lost and where she and her husband had wrestled with the decisions and ultimately she admitted that she still didn’t know if they did the right thing.

i am very much pro life and anti abortion, but when you read a story like Irma’s you realise how not black-and-white those issues can be when there are lives at risk and beyond the issue itself i was very interested to see how people, especially christians, would respond and for the most part there was a lot of love, grace and compassion on offer, but then also responses like this:

I don’t think that there is Any excuse for abortion. We have to suffer for our children and truly lay down our lives for them. those born normal and not. not just abort when the child doesn’t look normal or deformed. thats playing GOD. people died during child birth to give birth to babies that died , were sick and weren’t normal. no amount of justification will remove the fact that you took away a life. I don’t think God favors abortion, under any circumstance. He is a God of forgiveness, yes, but this is coming across as someone who just took things into their own hands and doesn’t have the faith that they speak so much about.

LET’S LET GOD BE GOD [as if we could stop Him!]

A couple of things to take note of:

# In Matthew 22 Jesus is asked what the most important thing is and His response is to love God with everything [heart, soul, strength, mind] and to love our neighbour as ourselves. [Later on He adds enemy to people we need to love and reminds us that His definition of ‘neighbour’ is everyone else in the world and particularly the person in need]

# In John 13 we read: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

# In James 1 we read two important things to take note of here: 26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Tight reign of tongue and look after orphans and widows.

# In Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and the goats, those who are sent to eternal punishment were not sent away because of their bad theology or because they failed to judge those who had messed up – they did not hit the mark because they ignored the hungry, naked, sick, thirsty, imprisoned etc.

There should be no doubt that our primary focus needs to be love. God is going to be doing the judging and each of us will stand in front of Him one day giving account of our lives and actions and maybe more importantly the times we failed to show love, compassion and grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus has a lot of encounters with terribly sinful people and the ‘Go and sin no more’ of his encounter with the woman caught in sin is a reminder that He never takes their sin lightly or dismisses it. But we don’t see Him making the ‘horrible sinners’ feel bad and in fact He is accused of hanging around with the drunkards and prostitutes which means that they probably enjoyed being around Him and not because He made them feel bad i imagine. In fact the major time we see Jesus making people feel bad, it is the Pharisees and the Sadducees who held so strongly on to ‘the law’ and used it to place heavy burdens on those seeking God.

THE POINT

God is the judge – let Him judge.

We are called to hold people accountable yes, but let the phrase “Speak the Truth in Love” always be our guide and mentor.

And whatever we do, wherever we get it wrong, or are not sure, we HAVE to always get LOVE right. That is the highest call on us and we cannot get that one wrong. Love, compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness, friendship, community… but always LOVE.

God will be God. [He’s pretty good at it!]

love

aslan“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” [The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: C.S.Lewis]

Continuing our look at how Jesus compares to Aslan [or is it the other way around?] in the C.S.Lewis Narnia series and the question of Him being good, but not necessarily safe or tame. Matthew 23 explodes this question right open.

There are three interesting things about this for me:

[1] Jesus is taking on the teachers of the law – the religious leaders of the day – the very people who were meant to be helping the average man and woman in the street to follow God well.

And He doesn’t take them on gently.

“Woe to you, blind guides!” [vs. 16]

“You blind fools!” [vs. 17]

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? [vs. 33]

Similiar to when Jesus sends the money lenders out of the temple grounds, we see passion and anger and strong language here. Jesus is serious about this. The lion is opening His mouth and letting out a gut-wrenching roar for all He is worth.

Paul reminds us in a more subtle way in 1 Thessalonians 5.21 that we must always test the spirits – hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil. In our modern day setting it is vital that we compare what we hear from the preacher or what we read or watch with the words in the Bible and if they do not measure up, to feel free to discard them and let them fall away. We need to be correct handlers of Truth.

[2] Jesus is accusing them of not living out what they teach:

23 “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. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

[3] Jesus takes them on publically – none of this ‘just you and them business we always get pointed to in Matthew 18’

15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’

And why not? Well maybe the key is in the first line where it says “sins against you” – what Jesus was taking on here was sin that affected the whole audience and so it needed to be dealt with publically. This can be a dangerous precedent to set [especially when it’s not Jesus doing the disciplining] but i believe there is a place for this [and have not found many who have vocally shared their agreement with me on this one]. My feeling is that if the preacher says something that is wrong and you deal with it with him alone, then everyone else has still heard the wrong thing and has no idea that it was wrong and so they will still take it on as truth. Perhaps this is why the Bible tells us there is a higher responsibility placed on those who preach/teach?

The audience needed to know that what the Pharisees were teaching and how they were living was not acceptable to God. 

As easy as it is to look down on the Pharisees and dismiss them, the primary objective of this story is for us to be reminded of the short distance between someone who follows Jesus and someone who becomes like them. I need to check my heart against the things that Jesus railed about in them and make sure that I do not fall into the same.

[To return to the beginning of this series to see the other posts, click here]

So we are continuing through Mark and this is a bit of a dejavu passage as Jesus repeats a miracle He has done before [feeding the crowd] but this time with a slightly smaller crowd and the disciples are still struggling to get it. To add to his frustrations his good friends the Pharisees pitch up demanding a sign leading into a deep sigh of frustration and him actually climbing back into the boat and heading across the lake away from them [so even Jesus needed a break from stupid people?]

Join with me as we read Mark 8 verses 1 to 13

[For the next post on Jesus warning us about the yeast of these, click here]

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