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Hopeful Desperation: Let’s Get Real

April 15, 2014

“… they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers…. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


Photo by Andrew Larson


I like attention. I crave it. I draw strength from my position and status. I love being the guy with the Bible degree. I’m energized when I get recognized at the grocery store. “Hey, you’re the bass player, right?!” You’re darn right I am, and good on you for pointing that out, little parishioner. Okay, maybe I’m not that pompous, but I often feel that way. I lust after titles and prestige. I want to be called “rabbi.” I want to be the one to who people go in order to get the final answer on how things should be.


I am a Pharisee.


The Pharisee sect was defined by its strict adherence to Jewish law. In terms of piety, they were superior, and they made sure everyone knew it. When they fasted, they made sure they looked terribly, and literally stood on the street corners wailing, making sure everyone knew just how much they were suffering to adhere to the law. Yet, they completely missed the point of the laws they were following. When an “unclean” person was present (Samaritans, women in menstruation, lepers, the poor, etc.), they avoided her, and even publicly shamed her in order to ensure no one would be subject to her uncleanliness.

“Woe to you… For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

The Pharisees thought they were obeying God, but they were actually disobeying the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). They were completely neglecting the entire point the law. To love others is to obey God. Pride was now the center of their religious practice. Feigning obedience slowly decayed their hearts. They didn’t (couldn’t!) even realize they were dismantling the fabric of Judaism itself.

“Woe to you… For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

“Woe to you…. For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness…. within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Mercy was silent. Justice had disappeared. The very people entrusted with unleashing the light of God’s love were destroying it.

“… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone…”

This is why Christ came. This is why he had to die.

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