Rick always had a way of delivering a one liner – humble but honest, seasoned with reality. One day he looked at me and said “with just a little work, we could be the Pharisees of the 21st century.” The “we” was our church, our denomination… us.
He was reminding me, and others in leadership, that its seldom as simple as “them”. Sometimes its “us”. The old spiritual put it this way “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin in the need of prayer...”
In Snow White, the evil queen was focused only on herself, repeatedly asking the mirror who was the fairest in the land? We are usually focused on ourselves as well, but seldom have the courage to ask who is the most Pharisaical in the land? We assume it’s never us.
Around the mid second century BC a group arose named the “separated ones”. Their hearts may have been in the right place. They wanted to stay their country from falling away from God, His instruction, and His protection. But like some organizations, their charter to preserve degenerated into to lifeless categories of prohibition. The big idea was lost in a growing mountain of minutiae.
Jesus’ strongest words were reserved for these folk – the Pharisees. During his last week of ministry, after being followed, hounded, criticized and nitpicked to death by these religious legalists, Jesus unloaded in broad daylight. Seven times he pronounced a “woe” upon them. Seven times they suffered direct hits to their system, ego, and reputation. Seven times the Son of God called them what they were: hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, blind men, blind Pharisees, snakes, and brood of vipers. There was no good news.
Why? Because they…
- …shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, making it impossible for them to enter. Their rules were legion, their regulations irrelevant and divorced from God’s law. Their teaching was critically obtuse, holding no good news at all.
- …travelled over land and sea to make a single convert that contributed to their disease. Their missionary work wasn’t to spread the sacrificial love of God through Christ, but rather to extend their complex web of legalities and minutiae. It took a lot of travel to produce one convert. And it wasn’t the kind of convert that made anyone’s life better.
- …took oaths in front of people that sounded good, but excused themselves from actual follow through by careful parsing of the oath language. Like a multi-national firm seeking tax evasion, these folk wanted public praise without any personal cost.
- …tithed herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness. The point of tithing was to teach dependence on God and continually enrich the relationship with God. That they could tithe on their mint leaves and walk by injustice meant they had no relationship with God in the first place. Jesus called it “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel”
- …cleaned the outside of the cup and dish, while ignoring the greed and self-indulgence inside. They were meticulous about their garments, homes and utensils, but didn’t give a second thought regarding how they secured their wealth from which they feasted. They cleaned the wrong things.
- …were like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. They appeared to people as “alive” but on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness. They put whitewash on a tomb. We call it putting lipstick on a pig. They were dead inside.
- …they built tombs for the prophets their forefathers killed, while treating the prophets of their own day exactly as their forefathers did. They thought making monuments for history validated ignoring the prophetic voice in their own day.
The summary is this – they loved titles and honor from people while they made life harder for people while they did nothing to help people. Vain, legalistic, and unhelpful. Fail.
The scary part is this: these folks considered themselves experts in the word of God. They thought they knew him best. But the fact was they didn’t recognize him when he was standing right in front of them.
How good are you at recognizing Him? How good are you at hearing his words? How good are you at seeing your own reflection clearly? See any likeness to these folks?
While I hope not, it’s good to get a second opinion, to linger, to consider… “Mirror, mirror?” Now be honest.