Do As They Say

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12


Here is a simple test. With which of the following do agree?

  1. God is sovereign, and humans have free will.
  2. Angels and demons exist.
  3. The human soul will live after earthly death.
  4. A person must live a pure life.
  5. Only free will exists in this world.
  6. Angels and demons do not exist.
  7. We should share our property with others.
  8. We are all responsible for what happens in the world.
  9. We must worship every day, as well as study the Bible.
  10. We should never pay taxes to the government.
  11. Violence is proper when done for a good cause.
  12. Non-Christians should not be allowed to live in the US.

These are all reworded beliefs of the major Jewish groups of Jesus’ day. The group most often mentioned in the Gospels is represented by the first three questions—the Pharisees. Questions four through six represent the views of the Sadducees. The Essenes are represented in questions seven through nine. And last three questions are positions of the Zealots.

Historically, the Sadducees ceased to exist after 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple. Most Sadducees were priests. With no Temple, they had no reason to exist. They lived, but they had to learn to do other work. They also became more like the Pharisees.

The Essenes disappeared from history at about the same time for much the same reason. The difference was, the Romans killed most if not all of them. They were the group who wrote and hid the Dead Seas Scrolls.

It took the Romans several centuries, but they did finally root out most of the Zealots, though there have always been a few among us.

You may have been surprised that you agreed with any of the positions of the Pharisees, but the reality is that they have become the standard for both Judaism and Christianity. That is why Jesus instructed us to, do what they tell you and follow their instructionsPhillips

He also, for reasons he described, told us not to copy their actions. They said what was right, but did what was wrong.

But the Pharisees do not have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Americans donated $390 billion to all charities in 2016, with 40% of that going to religious groups (education, mostly universities, was second). There is great debate about how much of that money goes to feed the poor, etc. We do have records that show 40% goes for staff salaries.

If I give $1,000 to my church, can I take pride in the fact that only $100-200 will actually help the needy? Or is that position hypocritical? Should I give another $1,000 directly to organizations that feed people, help them rebuild after hurricanes, etc.?

We cannot push aside such issues, they lie at the very heart of Jesus’ words in today’s reading. The Seneca tribe in New York State takes pride in spotting the member who is wearing ratty clothes and driving the most beat-up car, and knowing that he is the tribal chief. Do I really need a $50,000 car to drive to WalMart?


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.



Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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