Luke 11:37-44 (CEV)
37 When Jesus finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him home for a meal. Jesus went and sat down to eat. 38 The Pharisee was surprised that he did not wash his hands before eating. 39 So the Lord said to him:
You Pharisees clean the outside of cups and dishes, but on the inside you are greedy and evil. 40 You fools! Didn’t God make both the outside and the inside? 41 If you would only give what you have to the poor, everything you do would please God.
42 You Pharisees are in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your gardens, such as mint and rue. But you cheat people, and you don’t love God. You should be fair and kind to others and still give a tenth to God.
43 You Pharisees are in for trouble! You love the front seats in the meeting places, and you like to be greeted with honor in the market. 44 But you are in for trouble! You are like unmarked graves that people walk on without even knowing it.
It’s About ‘Them’, Right?
Growing up I went to a church that liked to talk about the iniquities (definitely the iniquities) of the Pharisees. They loved the idea that there were religious people who had gotten it completely wrong, and always implied that it was nice to know that we had gotten it right.
And then I grew up, and I realized that there were a lot of things about the place I’d grew up in that I disagreed in. A lot about where that thinking led to that had been hurtful. A lot that I felt was just plain wrong.
So it would be really easy to write this post about the iniquities of a new generation of Pharisees … except that I realize that the temptation is very real to assume that I have it right.
That I have it figured out.
That I know who is ‘out’ and who is ‘in’.
And of course the temptation will be to assume that it’s me who is ‘in’ and them who is ‘out’.
But what if the message is actually for all of us? What if these warnings are here because all of us have the temptation to do these things?
It’s easy to decide we’ll clean up our act on the outside. Easy to take a shower and put on some fancy clothes. Let’s face it – anyone who has witnessed the metamorphosis of a high school from morning class to evening prom knows how easy it is to put on the window dressings. But it’s hard – way, way harder – to do the work to sort through our hearts. Putting in the time to figure out why we do what we do is painful, difficult, demanding work. Committing the time and effort and energy to learn new practices and new strategies and new ways of being is a long-term project that requires an awful lot of humility and grace. So it’s not hard to see why Jesus warns against this.
Or how easy is it to try to say, “I’ll give you this, but not this.” The ideas that Jesus puts forward are incredibly radical. I know how hard it is to even think about this stuff. Because if the rules are simple – just give a tenth of everything you earn, and then you don’t have to worry about anything else – then you don’t have to feel guilty if you pass someone on the street who is begging and don’t offer them something. But to follow Jesus’ radical ideals means stopping and looking them in the eye. It means taking time out of your day to have a conversation with them. It might mean doing without something you had wanted to make it possible to share with someone you’ve never met before. It’s hard to follow Jesus … which means it can become really attractive to do what the Pharisees are being told off for.
And of course all of us would like a bit more approval. I notice that in general there isn’t enough of that going around, so I honestly think we’re all a bit hungry for it. But unfortunately once we start down that road it becomes very hard to do what is right, and much more likely that we’ll do what is easy or what will get us noticed.
- Have you ever thought of an individual or a group and felt like “they” were Pharisees?
- Have you ever thought of yourself and wondered whether you might be a Pharisee?
- Does it feel like it would be easy or hard to end up like the Pharisees?
- Do you think the warnings are just for the people Jesus is talking to that day? Just to people from a certain group? Or is it possible that they’re for all of us?