6 February 2018
Jesus, as He is portrayed in the Gospels isn’t exactly the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ that some people think He is. He was compassionate and kind, there is no doubt, but He could also be fierce and at times even frightening, particularly if you were a scribe, a Pharisee or a money changer in the Jerusalem temple!
The Pharisees were known for their passion for the law of Moses. They knew the Torah by heart and were adept at quoting it. They weren’t bad people. Indeed, Pharisaism began as a spiritual renewal movement within Judaism in reaction to the dominance and corruption of the wealthy families who had come to control the religious infrastructure around the Jerusalem temple. The Pharisees taught that any Jew could know and seek to live the Torah. They wanted to make the practise of Jewish faith available to all Jews. Still, Jesus does not seem to have been happy with them:
It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
We’re told that Jesus’ disciples had not followed the prescribed washing rituals before eating, and this really upset the scribes and Pharisees. They challenge Jesus about it but instead of answering the question, He rebukes them for valuing human traditions more than the commandment of God.
‘How ingeniously you get round the commandment of God in order to preserve your own tradition! …In this way you make God’s word null and void for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down.’
For Jesus, much depends on the heart, the core, the real self of a person.
Religious practices, rituals, traditions, even good deeds, as good as they may be, are not an end in themselves. They exist to grow us in love. The question of Jesus to the Pharisees, and to us today is, “Where is your heart at? Is it full of love for God? Do you love your neighbour as yourself? Do you bless the dignity and value of every other person without pettiness, judgement, or vanity?”
Let’s be honest. If your heart is anything like mine, the answer is probably, “Not really”. In fact, as a ‘religious’ person, I’m pretty sure I have a fair dose of Pharisee in me. Well, thank God for the Holy Spirit, whom St. Paul tells us is the One who pours the love of God into our hearts and fills us with hope. (Romans 5.5) Take committed religion, but leave out the heart healing power of the Spirit, and you end up with Pharisaism.
You know what to do: Repent of self-righteousness and invite the Spirit of Jesus to fill your heart again today!