Posts tagged ‘Pharisees’

Being Pharisaical About Being Pharisaical

The other day, I came across an experiment.  It was conducted by a Christian guy named Timothy Kurek who, by his own admission, wanted to “shock the Pharisee out of himself.”  He had been raised with a quintessentially fundamentalist pedigree, even attending Jerry Falwell’s famed Liberty University as a college student.  But something in his fundamentalist upbringing proved profoundly unsettling to him.  So he left everything he had known and feigned coming out of the closet as a gay man to his friends and family in an effort to see how his Christian friends would respond to him.  Some were loving.  Others, sadly, but predictably, skewered him.[1]

As I learned about his experiment, I came to appreciate his moving and sometimes heart-rending experience.  What I found somewhat troubling, however, was his characterization of the Pharisees.  Tim spoke many of times of his “inner Pharisee” – this voice deep inside his soul full of accusations and vitriol.  By the end of his journey, TIm went from having an inner Pharisee to calling himself a “recovering Pharisee.”  Part of this journey seems to have included a radical change concerning his conception of sin.  He is not nearly so comfortable calling things that have been traditionally called sins, “sins.”  After all, this is what Pharisees do.  They talk way too much about sin.  And he doesn’t want to be like them.

This past weekend at Concordia, we talked about Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  The Pharisee, in Jesus’ telling, represents everything we have come to hate about these religious elites.  He comes across as arrogant, judgmental, and outright smarmy in the prayer he offers on the steps of the Jerusalem temple:  “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12).  This guy’s bluster is palpable.  Yuck.

Did I mention the irony is also deep?  Our reflexive response to this parable all too often sounds something like this:  “God, I thank You that I am not like other religious hypocrites – Pharisees, Sadducees, creationists – or even like those unenlightened, bigoted fundies who attend Liberty University.  I judge not and am smart enough to realize that my Christian witness to the world has to be nuanced and Huffington Post appropriate.”

Somehow, I’m not sure this is what Jesus intended for us to get out of this parable.

The problem with the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable was not that he was religiously conservative, nor was it that he was concerned with sinfulness.  Both of those things are fine and, in many instances, even desirable.  The problem was that this Pharisee trusted in the wrong righteousness – his own.  Luke’s setup of Jesus’ parable makes this clear enough:  “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 12:9).

Sadly, many people see the road to killing their inner Pharisee as one paved by downplaying certain sins, thereby demonstrating themselves in-tune and in-touch with our culture’s zeitgeist.  But the road to killing our inner Pharisee cannot be paved in this way.  Indeed, Jesus Himself was quite comfortable with much of what the Pharisees said about sin and, many times, thought they did not understand sin deeply enough.  Just read the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or His discussion on human sexuality in Matthew 19:1-12 to see how seriously Jesus took sin.  Killing our inner Pharisee is not about redefining sin, but about killing sin by the cross.

So let’s stop trying to slay Pharisees by diminishing sinfulness.  That’s simply swapping one form of Pharisee-ism for another.  It’s swapping a religious self-righteousness for a cultural self-righteousness.  And that simply will not do.  For we do not need self-righteousness, we need Jesus’ righteousness.  Only His righteousness can cure a Pharisee and save a sinner.

Even a Pharisee and sinner like me.

[1] To learn more of Tim’s story, see Url Scaramanga, “Ur Video:  Straight Christian Lives as Gay Man,” (10.19.12) and “Timothy Kurek, Straight Christian Man, ‘Comes Out’ And Pretends To Be Gay For A Year,” The Huffington Post (10.13.12).

October 29, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

ABC Extra – Rejoice! Don’t Rage

Anger does strange things to people.

A couple of years ago, a country song came out called, “I Pray for You.”  In this song, the artist recounts a recent breakup with his girlfriend.  It was tough, but even with all the pain and heartache she caused him, he says he still prays for her.  And, according to the song, this is what he prays:

I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill,
I pray a flower pot falls from a window sill
And knocks you in the head like I’d like to.
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls,
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls,
I pray all your dreams never come true.
Just know wherever you are, honey, I pray for you.[1]

Do these lyrics strike anyone else as wholly inappropriate?  Whenever I would hear this song on one of our local country stations, I always had to change the station.  The bitterness and resentment which comes seething from this song was just too much for me.

No matter how unfortunate the lyrics to this song might be, they do give us a window into the havoc anger can reek in a person’s heart and soul.  Anger does strange things to people.

In our text from this past weekend, we read about the anger the religious leaders directed against the apostles: “They were furious and wanted to put them to death” (Acts 5:33).  As I mentioned in ABC, the Greek word for “furious” is diaprio, which means “to saw in half.”  The religious leaders are so angry with the apostles, they want to lay them on the sawmill and cut them in two.  This is the stuff of which horror movies are made!  In Luke 6, the religious leaders become angry with Jesus because He has the audacity to teach it is lawful to do good deeds on the Sabbath, even though the Sabbath calls for rest:  “They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might to do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).  In this instance, the Greek word for “fury” is anoia, from the word nous, meaning “mind,” fronted by an alpha privative negating the nous which follows it.  Thus, to be anoia means “to lose one’s mind.”  The religious leaders are so filled with fury, Luke says they can’t think straight!  They have lost their minds!

Yes, anger does strange things to people.  This is why the apostle Paul calls us to put off anger in Ephesians 4:  “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).  We should not allow anger to rule and pervert us the way it does ancient religious leaders and modern country stars.

So how do we break the vice anger can so quickly get on us?  In ABC, I spoke of alternate responses to anger.  Rather than getting angry, we can love, we can steadfastly resist evil while not bludgeoning evildoers, we can be patient, and we can even rejoice.  Perhaps it is this final alternate response that is most mystifying.  Rejoicing in the face of evil that should rightly make us angry hardly sounds reasonable or desirable.  And yet, this is precisely what Scripture urges: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3).  We ought to respond to trials – even those brought forth from evil circumstances – with rejoicing.  But do not overlook why we are to rejoice in these trials:  “the testing…develops perseverance.”  In other words, it is not the evil trials themselves in which we rejoice, but that which the trials produce in us, namely, perseverance.  Finally, then, we rejoice not in evil, but through evil.  For God works through evil things to bring about His great good for us and for others.

Finally, rejoicing is a much more powerful tool against evil than is anger.  Anger simply decries the inequity of wickedness.  Rejoicing, conversely, puts wickedness on notice:  Wickedness can be laughed at because wickedness will not win!  It has been conquered by Christ on the cross, it is used by Christ to develop perseverance in us, and it will be utterly destroyed at Christ’s return on Last Day.  Wickedness does not stand a chance.

So what enrages you?  What angers you?  Because Jesus wins, take some time to rejoice today.  After all, His victory is worth your joy.

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[1]I Pray for You,” Jaron and the Long Road To Love (Big Machine Records, 2010).

September 26, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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