For the next couple of weeks our Word Nerd Wednesday features will focus on people groups of the Bible, beginning today with Grey Zachary’s look at the Pharisees.
noun: Pharisee; plural noun: Pharisees
- English- a self-righteous person, a hypocrite
- Aramaic (Origin)- separated ones
- Hebrew- separated
Not Fair You See
I learned a little ditty in children’s church when I was 7 years old.
If you know it, sing it with me!
“I don’t want to be a Pharisee.
I don’t want to be a Pharisee.
‘Cause, they’re not fair, you see.
I don’t want to be a Pharisee.”
Even before I could ride a bike I knew that I was not to be a Pharisee, Sadducees, or a hypocrite.
I’ve got to admit, I did not do so well with that goal throughout adolescents. However, as I grew to early adulthood this standard became my litmus test for the authenticity of other Christians. I believed that if they lacked compassion, empathy, or understanding for others then they must not be Christians. If “they” claimed to be a Christian then they must be…Pharisees. I developed the unfortunate self-righteousness in my lack of self-righteousness.
Pharisee is a word lobbed by some Christians today in effort to label other Christians who aren’t as loving as Jesus was. This label may not always be far off, but to use it as an epithet oversimplifies and lacks a bit of understanding for who the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day.
Was Jesus a Pharisee?
The Pharisees were a religious group that formed and existed with a sharp focus on restoring Israel. Their intent was to be set apart from foreign rule, the Sadducees, and the monarchial/social elites. In the century before and after the birth of Christ, the Pharisees were the sect devoted to ritual purity, righteous and holy living. With keen minded leaders, they were known for accurately interpreting scripture for the common man. They were the religious teachers that developed many of the ideas that carried over into the early church. The ideas of resurrection, predestination, and the after-life/heaven all can be traced back to the Pharisees.
Some scholars believe that Jesus may have been most closely associated with this group. All throughout the Gospels we read of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Some believe that this may have been because Jesus was an insider. Jesus challenged their thinking as rabbis did in that day. The Pharisees were threatened by the teachings of Jesus. Their authority rested in their correct interpretation of scripture. Jesus, however, taught with personal authority about a new way of holy living. This was erroneous and offensive to the Pharisees. They had studied their whole lives and Jesus was just a carpenter from a small insignificant town. Where did He get the authority to undermine their beliefs, beliefs that had social and political implications?! This so-called “rabbi” was threatening their responsibility to humanity.
Do you feel the weight they were carrying yet?
As I grew beyond my childish understanding of Pharisees, I developed a tenderness for them and even an appreciation. A Pharisee believed whole heartedly that they were right and righteous and the keeper of all things Holy. They were and are tenacious and persistent. Their will to remain steadfast to what they believe(d) as truth is beyond admirable. Pharisees can be strong people. They can be devout and in many ways, an example to follow. However, I am sad that Pharisees were and can still be old wine skins. They are unable to receive new wine (Matthew 9:17).
Now, I want to be very careful here. Growing up in Mississippi I learned a saying, “If you point your finger at somebody, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you.” Also, Jesus warned us to remove the log in our own eyes before removing the speck in others. Any of us could behave self-righteously and as if we are the gate keepers of the Gospel.
Any! Of! Us!
We might feel strongly that we have landed on the truth that all others need to follow. We place rules, expectations, and vote for laws to keep others “moral.” We see the poor or weak or marginalized and say, “Well, they wouldn’t be ‘that’ way if they… (fill in the blank)” BUT we often do as Jesus said in Matthew 23:4. We, “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but [we] are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” We, Protestant Christians, often sit in our holy huddles and Christian country clubs called churches shutting out the “others.” At times, we are just as guilty of Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:13, “You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.”
Let me tell you a story. About 6 years ago I joined a women’s small group at my church when my husband was deployed. After several weeks, I had been encouraged and challenged by each woman as we studied the book of Esther. One Thursday night I was shocked when one woman asked two others if they were a couple. They seemed just as shocked but they handled the question with grace. They admitted that they had been married to each other for five years, but they assured us that they had no agenda except to study the bible. They understood that others would be uncomfortable with their marriage and they did not want to force the matter. They were Christians and just wanted to study the bible. Unfortunately, the interrogator left the group and she convinced another to leave with her. Sadly, they REFUSED to study the bible with anyone other than straight.
How self-righteous can someone be?
Christians vary in their interpretation of scripture on the matter of gay marriage. However, let’s consider for a second that gay marriage is sin. Guess what? Paul said, “No one is righteous.” No one means no one! Not even one person is holy, pure, or perfect! He was clear about this in Romans 1. The ladies who left our small group and refused to study the bible with “sinners” were clearly unaware of the enormous logs in their own eyes! My heart breaks for them. My heart aches because their fear cannot be the abundant life Jesus called us to. Isolation is quite the opposite of abundance. And they missed out on getting to know these great Christian (and, yes, gay) ladies who schooled me in the study of Ester. They truly just wanted to study the bible.
In my 32 years of church membership, I have witnessed similar reactions to people who have been divorced or arrested or are poor. I’ve seen others kept at arm’s length because they are of a different nationality or just a different color. The kid with the tattoos and even the ones who just dressed differently were watched with a side eye in a few of the churches I attended.
Woe to us, Church (Matthew 23:15).
Woe to us, Church (Matthew 23:27).
Woe to us!
So, sisters and brothers, may we be champions of justice, masters of mercy and figures of faithfulness (Matthew 23:23)! May we make room at our tables for all who are loved by Jesus.
And ALL ARE LOVED BY HIM!
And lastly, may the world know that we are Jesus’ disciples by our LOVE (John 13:35)!
In Jesus Name,
Grey Zachary is a Disciple of Christ, Red Shoe Woman, Wife of an Army Chaplain, Mother (Bio & Step), and a Texas A&M Student of Psychology. She holds a certificate of Modern Music Ministry from Visible Music College and a license in Cosmetology. She is a writer and new blogger. After working many years in several fields she discovered that she is passionate about one thing, people. Grey is excited to begin helping others create their best world one friendship at a time. Find her at greyzachary.com.
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