Tag Archives: Pharisee

Jesus Goes “All In”; Seals Deal

Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:32 (NIV)

There are times when focusing on one chapter each day risks losing continuity of the story that is important for the sake of context. Today is one of those days.

When we left yesterday’s chapter, Jesus had been teaching in the public courts of the Temple in Jerusalem during His final, climactic week of earthly life. The leaders of the institutional Hebrew religion had sent waves of envoys to test Jesus with hot political and religious questions of their day. They wanted to get a sound byte they could use to discredit Jesus, who was a threat to their power and religious racket. Jesus deftly answered each question then went on the offensive and stumped them with a question of their own.

This is a high stakes game being played between Jesus and the religious leadership. They want Jesus dead and out of the way so that they can carry on with their lives of localized power and greedy luxury. Jesus knows this, and having successfully played the cards in His hand He now doubles down and goes all in.

Jesus turns to His listeners and begins to publicly criticize the leaders of religion, and many of them are standing there listening. He acknowledges their systemic authority and tells His followers to honor that authority while refusing to follow their example. Jesus then turns to face the religious leaders and goes off.

Today’s chapter records the most intense and scathing rant Jesus ever offered. It is angry, pointed and provocative. What is essential to understand is that Jesus’ harshest words and most scathing criticisms were aimed at the most conservative, upstanding, strict rule-following religious people.

Jesus repeatedly called them names: hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, brood of vipers, sons of hell. He condemned them for their hypocrisy, their judgmental ways, and the selective ways they used God’s rules to make themselves look good and justify their poor treatment of the marginalized. These religious power brokers had already said they wanted Jesus dead, now with every word and every public criticism Jesus is upping the ante and forcing them to see His call and go all in against Him.

Jesus knows it.

At the end of Jesus’ rant He reminds the religious leaders that it was their predecessors who had killed God’s prophets in earlier centuries. It was the High Priests and religious keepers of the Temple who had violently silenced the ancient prophets. Now Jesus ends His tirade by saying, “Go ahead, finish what they started.” 

Jesus was not a victim. Jesus was on a mission. He was pushing buttons. He was driving the action.

This morning I’m meditating on the Jesus who forgave the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. I’m remembering that Jesus broke all social, cultural, racial and religious barriers of His day when He conversed with a Samaritan woman while she drew water from a well. I’m recalling that Jesus healed the son  of detested Roman officer and healed the child of a despised and “heathen” Gentile. It comes to mind this morning that Jesus hung out with “sinful” Tax Collectors and their worldly, sinful friends at loud parties where who-knows-what sinful things were going on.

I often encounter the misperception that Jesus is all about condemnation of sin and sinners. The record shows, however, that Jesus showed incredible mercy, tolerance and forgiveness to those we would terms sinners. Jesus reserved anger, judgment, and condemnation for “good” religious people who used religion to condemn sinners and make themselves look good.

The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 7

St. Mary Magdalene in the House of Simon the P...
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One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume…. Luke 7:36-37 (MSG)

Having lived in a few different towns of different sizes and I’ve discovered that there are community archetypes. Within any community I find the respected local politician, the business leader/power broker, the local pastor or priest who is the community religious leader, the high school star athlete who never quite got beyond his glory days, the person with special needs for whom the entire community looks out, and etc.

Years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the ruins of some of the villages along the northern shore of Galilee where Jesus carried out his ministry. They were small fishing villages not unlike the small farming towns in which I’ve lived. Through today’s chapter I get a sense of similar small town archetypes to the familiar ones I know: the Roman captain who represented the occupational civic authority, the town’s poor widow for whom life has been an on-going tragedy, the proud and pious religious leader, and the town whore.

I can’t think of a more dramatic small town scene. A regional celebrity comes for a visit. The entire town is buzzing with news and gossip. The local coffee shop is churning with stories about this Jesus and what they’d heard about him. Jesus is scheduled to go to the house of Simon for dinner. Of course he is. Simon is the town’s religious V.I.P. He is wealthy, he is powerful, and when it comes to spiritual matters in the town he calls the shots. Simon is the final word; God’s local judge, jury and executioner. Of course Jesus would go to Simon’s house.

Then she walks in. They all know about her. In fact, truth be told, some of the pious men in attendance at this private dinner party know her, in the Biblical sense, if you catch my drift. Publicly despised, privately used, and generally dismissed as dirt, she is known by all the town as a simple whore. Then, in a bold move guaranteed to turn heads, the sullied slut walks right into the religiously scrubbed crib of the local holy man. Imagine the snickers, the glares, the gossip ready to drip off the small town lips of the onlookers.

She carries expensive perfume purchased with lust money (we all knew where she got the money for that), and she falls at Jesus’ feet. Her river of tears pour across her cheeks and drip onto Jesus’ feet. They mix with the perfume she humbly, and gently spreads with her hands across his toes.

For each person in that moment, and for each archetype, Jesus is present. For each there is a lesson. For each there is a blessing. For each there is a crossroads and a transformational opportunity. That’s the way Jesus is. No matter who we are or where we find ourselves on life’s road, Jesus dramatically meets us right where we are, turns us away from where we’ve been, and points us where we need to go.

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