A NAIF IN THE LAND OF THE PHARISEES
Who are today�s Pharisees?
It is a question of some importance because the answer would clarify things when others and I are involved in street ministry.
The scenario usually goes like this: Someone is preaching the gospel of repentance from sin and salvation through faith. One of the hearers comes up and either complains or offers counsel that there is a �better way� to deliver the message than �condemning people� or �pointing out their sin.� They advise us that we would be more successful if we reached out with �love.� When we reply that the calling to repentance from sin is what Jesus did, they retort, �Jesus only did that to the Pharisees, not to the ordinary people.�
Setting aside the question, for the moment, of why Jesus would be �loving� to ordinary sinners, but not to Pharisee sinners, it can be fairly admitted that Jesus did come down pretty hard on the Pharisees. So, this returns the modern-day preacher to the question� Who are today�s Pharisees?
It is worth saying right off that Jesus did not treat all those who were of the Pharisee party the same way. Nicodemus and probably others were not rebuked. However, the term �Pharisee� has become a byword for certain kinds of people.
Are Pharisees �the rich�? In Jesus time, they were more often what we would call �blue collar.� Their wealth did not define them or what Jesus disliked about them. So, we have to look elsewhere for the modern Pharisee.
Are Pharisees people who are �religious� in the sense that they try to live clean lives? In Jesus day, almost the only people who tried to live a clean life were religious. Zacharias and Elizabeth were said to be �blameless� and their son, John the baptizer, certainly lived clean and was religious. So just being very religious is not the problem.
Are Pharisees hypocritical? Oh, yes! Hypocrisy was one thing Jesus hated (and who says Jesus doesn�t hate?). The Greek word is for an actor. It describes a person who pretends to be good, but is not. One way of doing this � and this was the way of many of the Pharisees � was to make up a list of rules to observe which was supposed to make you good, and then follow them. Of course, this can completely circumvent what God requires for you to follow, but that was no matter to them. One of the great theological debates with them was �What is the greatest commandment?� Some believed that if you kept the greatest one that was sufficient.
However, it was more than just pretending to be righteous that Jesus aimed at. These went further. They looked down upon anyone who didn�t live up to the code they constructed. Jesus confronted them in Luke 18: 9.
�And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:�
This begins the story of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the Temple. The Pharisees �trusted in themselves� (made their own rules) and despised others. We all remember the story. We all remember who Jesus said went out of the Temple �justified.�
Now let�s bring these attitudes to modern times. As a fairly consistent presence on the streets, I can tell you that the Pharisee Party has grown by leaps and bounds. Their party apparently does not discriminate. There are rich Pharisees, but there are also Pharisees among the homeless and street-dweller. There are religious Pharisees of Christian, Buddhist, Moslem, and New Age stripes, but there are also agnostic, atheist, nihilist, existentialist, and any other �ist� you might find who are Pharisees.
Does this claim surprise you? Or do you think that the spirit of the Pharisee can only be contained in fancy robes?
Let me describe what I see on the streets. I run into homeless, drug-addicted youth who come up to us as we preach. They usually take very vocal umbrage with the preaching and tell us so. In our encounter it becomes obvious that they �trust in themselves� that they are righteous. They live according to the rules they have on the street. They know (and have been repeatedly told) that �God loves me the way I am!� More than that, they are better than us, because they are �loving� and we are not. They are �not part of the Capitalist System� (or some other system) and we are. They despise people like us. Of course they panhandle and hustle (defraud) that System �to survive.� They hypocritically hate the System for stealing from the people, then they steal from the System thereby raising the price of goods the poor have to pay.
When we tell this person about their moral guilt before God and their need to repent, they not only do not believe us, they are angry that we suggest that they are not already good enough. They simply don�t think they need God in order to be good enough.
Do you see a Pharisee here?
How about the young, middle-class couple � not married � we meet who are obviously in heat. They tell us they are only doing �what�s natural� and that�s the way God made them. �After all,� they intone, �God is luv, isn�t He?� The homosexual standing nearby echoes the sentiment. �We�re just fine!� they say. �God loves us the way we are!� Next they explain how prudish we are and how the real sin is in trying to �impose� that prudishness on others. They despise people who are so up-tight.
Do you see a Pharisee here, too?
I could go on with examples, but I think you get my initial point. My next point is that America has become the Land of the Pharisees. Each Pharisee doing what is right in his own sight; each Pharisee despising those who come to true repentance and stand as a contrast to their own self-made righteousness.
Few and far between are those whose demeanor mirrors the ordinary people we see Jesus speak to. The harlots and tax-gatherers of His time appear to be fully aware of their sinfulness. We don�t see them challenging Jesus and telling Him that he needs to preach a more �loving� message than His �Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.�
The only ones making those noises are those who �trusted in themselves.�
The origin of this explosive growth of the Pharisee Party comes from people described in the first scenario in this commentary � the �Christian� preacher or teacher who has been spreading the false gospel of �God loves you the way you are� � the �minister� who coos and comforts the lost and shows a worldly version of �love� to the lost for fear of offending them or �driving them away.� (As one wag asked, �Where are you going to drive them to � Hell 2?�) These are the ones who try to interfere with the preaching � often taking sides with the arrogance of the unrepentant sinner.
Do you see a Pharisee here, as well?
Do you think it was just a coincidence that both the Pharisees and the thief on the cross railed upon the crucified Christ with the same taunt: �If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross�?
The �gospel� that does not expose and rebuke sin is not gospel at all, but it is the one most preached by the American Church. Many people in the pews are just comfortable, unregenerate souls headed for Hell as a result. Worse yet, the entire culture has felt the false comfort of the �God loves you the way you are� gospel to the point where they have become the hardened, stony ground of the wayside in Jesus� parable. (Mark 4: 5) In order to break up such ground so that it is able to receive the seed of the Word it usually takes jackhammer preaching from someone willing to �reprove, rebuke, and exhort.� (2 Timothy 4: 2)
My point is that if we understand what made Jesus oppose the Pharisees, we will understand that not all Pharisees are the rich, religious, people of our stereotypes. Maybe we will understand why the modern Pharisees � regardless of appearance � need the same stiff rebuke.
We live in the Land of the Pharisees. Let�s not stay na�ve about that.
� 2004 Paul deParrie - All Rights Reserved
Paul deParrie is a 17-year veteran of anti-abortion street activism, a preacher, and a social critic. He is the author of "Dark Cures: Have Doctors Lost Their Ethics" (Huntington House) available at NewsWithViews Online Store Front. deParrie may be reached at: [email protected].
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"Many people in the pews are just comfortable, unregenerate souls headed for Hell as a result. Worse yet, the entire culture has felt the false comfort of the �God loves you the way you are� gospel to the point where they have become the hardened, stony ground of the wayside in Jesus� parable."