The Bible is full of lists, my wife loves lists so trust me I know a list when I see one. From what happened on the various days of the creation to those “begetting” genealogies, to the 10 commandments and that barely scratches the surface. One I wasn’t familiar with was the Woes of The Pharisees. This is a list of problematic behaviours Jesus attributes to the majority of the Pharisees. Last night though I had a bad night, woke around 1am feeling hideous and went down stairs to read. And for whatever reason I found myself reading about the Woes of The Pharisees.
God is beyond our understanding. That’s my starting place in my life as a Christian. His thoughts are not our thoughts and his decisions do not make sense to us all the time. It’s like a two year old watching their parent use a washing machine. The two year old knows, maybe, that dirty clothes go in and clean ones come out. Only the parent has a true, more complete view of what is happening.
The Pharisees thought they knew all about the inner workings of God’s mind and focused on the minutiae of the law, often man made rather than God given laws. They thought themselves better than others and, in Jesus’s eyes, put on a show, more concerned about looking pious than living a Godly life.
Jesus’s advice to them was that unless they changed they were not destined for the kingdom of heaven. In many ways these were sinful, broken men, no different from the tax collectors Jesus spent time with so why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees but not the tax collectors? The tax collectors were hated because they were viewed as greedy collaborators working for the occupying Roman forces, the Pharisees were respected members of Jewish society.
I think it came down to their understanding of themselves. The tax collectors would have had no illusions about themselves and their position in society so when a rabbi, a teacher, chose to spend time with them they listened with respect and, at least in the story of Zacchaeus, changed their ways because what Jesus said
The Pharisees on the other hand believed they were beyond reproach. They knew their scriptures and their prayers, they made exactly the right offerings at the right times and perfectly observed the many laws that governed them. But Jesus described them as ”whitewashed tombs” beautiful on the outside but filled with dead bones. They were all but unreachable and unteachable. They were the only group that made Jesus angry.
These days we don’t have Pharisees as such but most of us know people made in that mold. Many people who don’t like church can point to a Christian with a similar spirit to the Pharisees as the core of their dislike. There are whole churches built around the core ethic of “meet our standards” if you want to belong, churches where the command “love your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” has been edited out of their Bible. Most Christians have met other Christians like that.
These people do not represent Christ though. God can and does work miracles in the hearts and lives of those who let him in. Those who are broken often have a love shaped hole that needs filling and, as Christians, that’s where we become part of God’s work. Modern day Pharisees though, I’m not sure they can be changed by anyone other than God alone. When that happens they break and we can help God with rebuilding them. Sometimes you have to knock the old down before you can build the new up.
So that’s where your brain can end up a 1am. Trying to get thoughts down from that hour in a way that can make sense can be very difficult so I hope my ramble makes sense.
If you’ve ever felt Jesus’s call on your life but have been put off by a bad experience, please give him and the church another chance. If you walk into a church you will know what it is like by the greeting you receive. Take this strange time we are living in to take a look around at on-line services and on-line Alpha courses and blogs and YouTube videos. There are people out there who will speak of the Bible in a way that will make sense to you, you just have to look.