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Sunday Thoughts

One people group that Christians love to use as an exam
ple of how not to live are the Pharisees. Jesus challenged their hypocritical lifestyle, and often went toe to toe with how they lived, eventually creating so much tension that these religious leaders sought his execution. It's easy for Christians to point fingers and play the "Pharisee" card when they feel others Christians have missed the mark of true Christian living.

It surprised me to learn that the Pharisees actually were one of the most beloved and popular groups present in 1st century Jewish life. The Pharisees represented the idea that if the people of God lived a pure and holy life, God would rescue them from their Roman overlords. Consider the Pharisees the heroes of the "blue-collar", working class 1st century Jew - they held out hope that God would reward those who lived a righteous life, and punish those who didn't. To add to the confusion, the Pharisees and Jesus seem to have more in common than I would like to admit - they both taught obedience to God, and held to a strict moral ethic. It's really easy for us to forget that the ethical teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5transcend the Ten Commandments. It might be possible for a man or woman to "not commit adultery", but Jesus equates even thinking about lust with physical adultery. Never committed murder? That might get you a pass under the Ten Commandments, but Jesus says if you hate your brother or sister, you've committed murder in your heart. Think divorce is not a big deal? Jesus seems to say quite the opposite. In fact, Jesus' teaching on divorce is so similar to the Pharisee Academy of Shammai, that some even think Jesus may have been a Pharisee himself.

The Pharisees were bible believing followers of Yahweh. They stood is stark contrast to the wealthy and elite Sadducees. The modern attempt at equating the Pharisees with wealthy American evangelicals is quite anachronistic. While there existed no "middle-class" in the modern sense of the word, the Pharisees were loved by the "common" man.

It's so easy for us to miss out on the true failing of the Pharisees. It's easy for us read the Gospels and think "yeah, these guys are just like so and so". It's easy for us to miss the true conflict between Jesus and his contemporaries.

While the Pharisees walked away from those that failed their high moral standards, Jesus rushed towards them. While the Pharisees had grand dreams of God rewarding their nation with prosperity and eventual earthly comfort through piety, Jesus healed the very broken heart of his people, equipping them with the grace to experience the almost certainty of earthly struggle. This speaks to the modern religious mind with uncanny precision.

The Pharisees should remind us of our own contribution to the hurt in this world, and remind us to be careful, that even if we are bible believers and popular, we can completely miss the desire of God for this world.


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