Todays blog requires an additional question. Are there Pharisees among us today? Many believe that the Pharisees somehow are looked at a bit to harshly. Here is what we know. The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. The name, Pharisee, comes from a Jewish word meaning separated. They included the oral tradition in addition to the written law and they insisted that all Jews must obey all 600 plus laws in the Torah, along with the rituals contained in the purification ceremony. These men were mostly middle-class and held leadership positions in the synagogues. An interesting point is that they were a minority in the Sanhedrin as to the number of positions they held as priests, yet they also seemed to be able to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they were popular with the people. Fast forward to today. There are many things that are contrary to our faith values today along with questionable leadership which yet seems to flourish simply because it is popular with the people. I have included the Pharisees in other writings in the past but here is a fact that has eluded me until my recent readings. Among the Pharisees were two schools of thought, based on the teachings of two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel. No need to delve into that at this time but is interesting that after a period of time these two schools within Pharisaism became so hostile to each other that they would no longer worship together. Sound familiar? Think the of church splits that happen in today’s Christian community. You can find much more information about the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin in other books and study material.
We are using scripture from Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. Most of us have always been taught that the Pharisees and Scribes were self-righteous hypocrites, the bad guys in the narrative. Jesus himself calls them out as such. Are we to question our Lords spoken words, of which Mark has noted in these scripture readings? I don’t think so but I also believe that motive and intent are reasonable qualifiers in any situation and are pivotal to understanding the scripture fully. Sometimes good intentions can blind people and cause them to not trust God. Remember motive and intent? It is important that we at least consider the intent and motive of the Pharisees when reading these scriptures. Before God gave the law he told the people that they were to be a holy nation, priestly in their behavior among the nations around them. These men understood that God was calling them to be His people. They believed that the law was a gift to bring order into their lives as God’s people. For them to observe that law was a witness to the nations around them and gave glory to God. I do not want to burden you with details and there are many but rather present a few facts for you to consider in future discussions about the Pharisees. One thing we all have in common with the Pharisees would be our attachment to traditions. They believed that the laws concerning the priests serving in the temple applied to all of God’s people and all aspects of their lives. The fact that the priests had to wash their hands before entering the temple or offering a sacrifice was the basis of interpreting the law to mean that all Jews must wash their hands before a meal, making it a sacred time. The Pharisees intent was to bring all aspects of life under the canopy of God’s law. Their motive of protecting these traditions was their way of protecting the Jewish faith and way of life amid the Roman occupation. One of the best examples of this protective attitude is found in Mark 7:1-8. The real issue here was not proper hygiene. The Pharisees looked upon it as a neglect of tradition and undermining of God’s law.
These Pharisees may have had some legitimate concerns in their day and time. It is my opinion that they acted with closed minds and sought to undermine anything that challenged what had become the tradition of Jews living out their lives and worshiping their God. There is one other factor that we must include….Power…Power to control God’s people and influence their religious life with the Law being first and foremost in all their life actions. In Mark 7 Jesus makes it very plain why he is so displeased with the Pharisees.
Mark 7:6-8, 14-15, 21-23
6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
There is no tradition that can protect us from the evil behavior of others or ourselves. The Pharisees got to the point where they thought themselves to be a rung above everyone else. They used the law as a leverage to separate themselves from those they deemed not worthy of God’s love. The Pharisees built a wall of law and tradition to keep others out. Now what about that other question? Are there Pharisees among us today? Yes, most definitely and here is a thought to take with you. The gospel shows us that true faithfulness is going among those considered unclean, loving those who are unloved and serving and giving our lives, time and resources to all people —
Matthew 25:35-36 New International Version (NIV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Sharing the word with you is an important part of my life for which I am most grateful. I am also grateful for the numerous authors, commentaries and articles that provide the material for these blogs. They, prayer and the Holy Spirit are my guides through this wonderful world of God’s word. As always I will endeavor to acknowledge the sources that provide these insights into the gospel each week.
Life is Good
Resource material for today’s blog is from an article written by Elisabeth Johnson, Professor, Lutheran Institute of Theology.