September 15, 2009

Modern Day Pharisees

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:05 am by Editorial Team

Most of our knowledge of the Pharisees comes from the scathing words of Jesus.  Through this lens, we have a very negative picture of Pharisees as haughty, divisive people who were incredibly judgmental and legalistic.  It was easy to demonize these people, according to the words of Jesus.  And it’s easy to demonize them now.  Calling someone a Pharisee in the modern church is always assumed to be derogatory.  I’ve never heard someone compliment another person with the term.

The use of them term Pharisee in the church today is purely for casting out and condeming those in the church who we believe to be perverting the word of God or the  work of the church.  We cast out those who interpret the Bible a certain way as legalists, as Pharisees.  Pharisees are the judgmental people in our church, the people who do or say things we don’t like.  They are the heartless people who are more concerned about ritual than compassion.

Jesus had some scathing critiques of the Pharisees.  Yet, we read into the Biblical narrative a modern day interpretation of Pharisees that just wasn’t true.  We assume that even in Biblical times, Pharisees were these evil, scum-filled people that walked around hated by everyone.  This picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

Who were the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?  They were the champions of the people of Israel.  They were the role models of religious piety and sacrifice.  They were admired by the people because they took their faith seriously enough to live in a radical way.  They were respected in every way.

The Pharisees were laypeople.  They were not Levites, who were the ordained religious leaders of Israel.  They were regular citizens who took their religion to an extreme level.  They fasted twice each week, in spite of only being required to once a year.  They tithed well beyond what was required.  They dedicated themselves to scripture, memorizing the Torah and other holy writings.  They strove in every way to practice holiness and purity before God.  Their religious acts went above and beyond, in a belief that their actions would transfer to others of less means, to provide absolution for the whole community.   In every act, they radically followed it, and went beyond it intentionally to bless and justify the community at-large.

So when Jesus issued his diatribes against the Pharisees, he wasn’t doing it against the powerful, judgmental religious leaders that no one liked or agreed with.  He was issuing it to the pious, most devout and and admired religious leaders.  We use the term against people we don’t like or respect.  Jesus used it against the people we would have respected, thought highly of.

Who are the modern day Pharisees?  The people that Jesus might have scathing words for?

The Pharisees are the people we respect or agree with.  They are people who epitomize what we think Christianity should be about.  They exemplify what we think it means to be radically different from our culture and radically following the gospel.  They might be our church elders or other lay leaders.  They might be living some radical form of faith such as the holiness mmovement.   They might even be a part of the new monastic movement.  One thing is sure:

We are the Pharisees.


1 Comment »

  1. L D Jones said,

    Good Word.
    We all have a bunch of little Pharisees running around in our hearts, don’t we?


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