We Are the Pharisees

Who Were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes?

It is not a difficult statement to make that we tend to see ourselves as the ones in the right, those who already champion others, or what-have-you.

What is difficult, however, is to course correct and humbly ask if we have been in the wrong, misunderstand the faith, or what-have-you.

It is possible to be a member of the greatest nation in the world (at this moment in time) and fundamentally miss many of the nuances of the Scriptures, which were written by the least nation in the world.

We often forget that the Scriptures were written by those “on the bottom.” Perhaps you know the phrase, “History is written by the winners.” Well, in this sense, this is what makes the Bible unique. It was written by stubborn and stiff necked people, who constantly were being flattened, and oppression, and exiled, and put into slavery, and had the Roman Empire ever ready to stomp them out, and being persecuted to the point of death.

It was written “by the bottom, not the top.”

Yet, if we are a member of “the top” and we read it as though we were the ones “on the bottom,” then there is some dissonance to overcome.

In a recent conversation, I heard someone say, “We are the pharisees.” That was such a profound statement of solidarity with those who Jesus chastised. Of course, we want to be among the crew that Jesus loves and welcomes, but not at the expense of sometimes also being the crew that Jesus harshly corrects.

As someone who has largely worked in churches and ministries since High School, I have to personally associate with the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:23-34 (NRSV), he has some choice words that still resonate today…

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup, so that they outside also may become clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in the shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town…”

My goodness.

Now, of course, it is best to read Scripture in context, so please go and read the entirety of Matthew 23. And if you define yourself as a student of Scripture, then the word “scribes” could then be seen as applying to you.

It is possible to read the Scriptures and yet still miss some of the main themes that are present from Genesis to Revelation.

Matthew 23:23 reads quite directly about those of us that consider ourselves religious, who do religious things yet miss the “weightier matters of the law”: justice and mercy and faith.

So what might we say after all this? How about that the Scriptures still speak authoritatively today? How about that every generation has the tendency to avoid the passages that sound accusatory in favor of the passages that show us mercy or forgiveness? Or that, we all need to wrestle with the fact that at different times in our lives we need to experience the Law of God telling us where we have lost the plot, gotten off track, missed the mark before we can experience the Grace of God that says, “I do not hold this against you forever, but it is time to make things right.”

Because, after all, to even be corrected by God is itself a grace.

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