It was the Pharisees who shouted from beneath their heavy oral tradition at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, for feeding his disciples as they spoke to people. Jesus told them King David also ate from the temple on the Sabbath, and he himself was God, in person, who brought healing to his creation so they no longer had to worry. They still scoffed at him.
For not following their rules.
It was the Pharisee who went to the temple and prayed, “God, thank you that I am not like these sinners; thank you that I fast and pray twice a week”. Thank you, God, I am not like them.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, and the Pharisees demonized them.
It was the Pharisees who questioned the man who was blind from birth but miraculously healed, and his own parents didn’t want to speak on the matter, because they were afraid of what would happen. It was the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin who demanded Jesus’ death, the mockery of their own Messiah, as they disgracefully pronounced themselves blameless. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Wealthy, but poor. Rich, but empty. The ruling class, and the religious class.
Before Christ was born, during the rise of the Greek and then the Roman empires, the Hasidim sought to separate themselves from the influence of Hellenism, as they were being oppressed by Antiochus Epiphanes, forced to sacrifice to Zeus, being slaughtered by the thousands in Jerusalem for keeping the Torah before the Maccabees fought for their brief freedom. They came from humble beginnings, desiring to stay true to God, but slowly the tactics of the human heart settled in to try and exact control.
These are the ones who gather round in our modern time and pat one another on the back and post pictures to social media to invoke status. Power, prestige, attacks with words, but mostly tearing down their neighbor, the one in their midst. The ones who are crawling to the finish line, the ones who are giving water to the thirsty, those Pharisees kick down and jeer.
They shout to crucify those that don’t vote their way or dress their way. They throw stones and outcast, then pray to the Father “thank you I am not one of them.” Being blind, they do not see their blindness. Being foolish, they do not comprehend their folly.
Shock and hurt morph into anger that bubbles and rises and Jesus says, no, love those who mistreat. Bless those who curse. Don’t defend yourself at all against those who shout and speak profanity, those who accuse and vilify. Jesus stood silent before Pontius Pilate.
Those Pharisees are out there, and I am the misunderstood tax collector, I tell myself.
Or, am I the Pharisee? My heart betrays.
Because every time I read or hear another’s words of truth, or on loving others, or ministering, I think to myself, “Oh yes, I do that” and I click the link to give money and I thank God that I am not like those people on social media who post their traumas, who post their sadness, who post their poverty. Spilling out messy, but honest. Bless them.
Maybe I am the Pharisee and the tax collector, all in one.
It was Dante who lived his life of protection and then was saved after all when he saw his friends in life scrounge the dirt and gnash their teeth in agony among the rings of hell. It was Flannery who wrote about the superstitious zealot who cursed those around him but was ultimately consumed by his own radical condemnation of others, his own generations fighting against what he taught. In these moments I am lost, drowning under the depth and weight of my own, empty sense of justice until I am found by the One who can throw stones at me, but…doesn’t.
I am the Pharisee needing to be washed. I am also the one who needs to see the Pharisee as one who needs to be equally loved and blessed, for they are the whitewashed tomb, poor in spirit. We are all the Prodigal, but we are also all the older brother, the one who is angry that the other is being blessed. We think we are being cheated. The highborn and the low, the wealthy and the poor, we are all naked and empty, and in need of Love and Truth.