What I am about to write has a built-in catch-22, an implicit hypocrisy which, although unfortunate, must not stop you trying to get some wisdom from the words. I am proposing to critique the critical, judge the judgemental, and attack attacking. Those of you who are familiar with the character of Jesus of Nazareth will know that he is a gracious and forgiving personality. Generally, he found the good in lost causes and exposed positives in the face of negativity. There were, however, some behaviours and some people that made him angry. Given that he reserved his rage for this, you may well be advised to attempt to understand.
The people who were on the receiving end of his fury were often called scribes, pharisees, sadducees and religious leaders. In this piece, I will use pharisees as shorthand, conceding straight away that this is inaccurate and would really infuriate the other groups – which only illustrates the point.
This pharisee syndrome and pharisaical behaviour had several key characteristics. I will itemise a few:
Firstly, they were much more concerned with outer appearances than inner life. Image and persona were very important. So Jesus blasted them with sarcasm saying that they spent hours cleaning the outside of the cup when they drank from the inside, or that they were like white mausoleums – pure white paint on the outside but smelling of death on the inside. Secondly, they were much more concerned with the letter than the spirit. So ten commandments became hundreds of regulations; keeping one day separate ended up with a catalogue of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for Saturday. Jesus hurled at them the irony of their belief that rescuing an animal from a ditch was permissible, but healing a disabled man illegal. Thirdly, they were much more concerned with the petty than the expansive. Giving away one tenth of your spice rack was very important although actually taking burdens off the poverty stricken was less attractive.
Fourthly, they were much more concerned with criticism than praising. So it was of greater importance to them to criticise someone who broke a regulation than to encourage someone who was coming out of brokenness. So Jesus told the story of the pharisee and the publican at prayer, or deliberately challenged them by opening a blind man’s eyes on the Sabbath, thus exposing their refusal to celebrate progress and rescue.
Not all pharisees were bad or all of their hearts corrupt, but to those who behaved like that Jesus applied a startling description of “being of their father, the devil”. They were living lies, not truth; darkness, not light.
So here is our catch-22, hypocritical bit. Before you adopt a pharisaical attitude to the pharisee, have a look at yourself to see the inner pharisee sitting in your soul. How much time at home, work, and especially church do you spend cultivating the outer persona as well as judging others by theirs? Is it ascetic discipline that drives your image or inner soul work? How is your inner pharisee doing with rules and regulations? There he or she sits with the list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ which bear little relationship to the important and very little relationship to relationship!
Have you become caught up in the detail and forgotten the big picture; has your spirit become critical and happier watching failure than celebrating success? There is a pharisee in all of us. Now here is the really intriguing bit: the pharisee in you wants to crucify the Jesus in you. The Jesus in you is angry with the pharisee in you. The results are many and varied but inner conflict is at its heart. This inner conflict will spill out into your work, your religious life and your home.
It is possible, even for a believer, to live the lies of the pharisee and serve the wrong purposes. It seems to me that Jesus used numerous tactics such us exposing, challenging, rebuking and arguing in his fight with the pharisee. But he also allowed himself to be crucified.
Maybe this is why Paul talks about being crucified with Christ – yet living, and why Jesus invites us to take up the cross daily.
May I suggest you check back through this piece and then visit a team meeting, a one-to-one, a project, a professional review or decision making process and see if you can spot the pharisee running the show?
It was the cross that defeated the pharisee – it still does.
20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
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