The Pharisees are referred to in the various readings in the new testament. Today we heard Jesus say: “Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”
Pretty tough stuff. You would probably assume that these people were constantly at odds with Jesus and His followers. So it might come as a surprise to you to find that Jesus, Himself, was a member of this sect. It also might come as a surprise that Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was known as “a pharisee of Pharisees”. So what did that mean?
If you look Pharisee up in the encyclopedia (as if any of us still had encyclopedias) you might find the following,
1. a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.
o a self-righteous person; a hypocrite.
But that would not be accurate. The Pharisees had the responsibility of interpretation of the law. Rather than blindly follow the letter of the Law even if it conflicted with reason or conscience, the Pharisees harmonized the teachings of the Torah with their own ideas or found their own ideas suggested or implied in it. They interpreted the Law according to its spirit. So why was Jesus so hard on them.
Maybe it was their motivation behind their interpretation? We always interpret the law to our own benefit. Let’s take traffic laws for example; when the sign says “Speed limit 55” we interpret that to mean any speed between 56 and 64 miles per hour.
Lord help anyone that is anywhere near you that is driving 55 or less. And there appears to be some unspoken perception that as long as we are not traveling faster than 9 mile an hour over the posted limit we will not be pulled over.
There are other examples, driving through town at 2:30 in the morning. Traffic signs and signals seem to only be “recommendations” at that time of the morning. Assuming that there are no police around and you are not being watched.
In these examples the interpretation of the law are made to our advantage. When reading through the gospels this would appear to be the problem that Jesus has with his collogues. Don’t eat this way or wash that way seemed to be more on maintaining authority rather than interpreting the law according to its spirit.
When we consider the Jewish Law, the 10 commandments for example, it is the “letter of the law” that we are to take into consideration. When the commandment says, “thou shall not kill”, for example, we look at the previous few days, see that everyone that we came in contact is still alive and kicking and check that off the list as “no one dead” check.
In the Jewish Torah there are 613 “commandments” or mitzvot. There is no wonder that there needed to be a religious sect who had the role of interpretation. And there is no wonder that Jesus had to make it clear that he came to bring a new law.
John 13:34 – 36 “I give you a new law. That law is, “Love each other”. As I have loved you, so you also love each other.”
So now when we look at whether we have killed anyone lately we also have to look to see if we have loved one another as He has loved us? What does that even mean?
He died on the cross for us. He was beaten, tortured and humiliated for us. He was abandoned by many of His friends and those that said that they loved Him. Does that mean that we have to love one another that much?
Paul answers that question. He says, “Once again I declare to every man … that he is bound to observe the entire law. You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For in Christ Jesus, [nothing] counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
“Only faith working through love”. That means that when we look at that “shall not kill” law we have to consider “shall not fail to love” law. What if the “entire law” includes “killing” someone’s spirit, or joy, or happiness.
And, what about James 2:15 -16 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If ones of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?” So now we have to provide for their physical needs as well?
In the gospel reading Jesus chastises the Pharisees for “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”
The interesting thing is that the Gospel Verse sums it up perfectly. “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
Law or no law, interpretation or no interpretation we know the Lord and He knows us.
That is what is important and what we need to remember.
The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”
Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”
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