Tag Archives: Pharisees

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

Second Chances

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Luke has done something very interesting by placing this event immediately after the fig tree parable which starts in verse 6.  Farmers understand the idea that a fig tree, or any other plant, that does not yield fruit has to be eliminated to make room for those that do yield.  Yet, in the parable, the tree was given another chance.  The main point being that God gives Israel and each of us second chances.
Now Luke places Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath with a woman.  Picture a room perhaps the size of the average Seven-Eleven.  There are benches along the sides, but most of the men are standing or sitting on the floor.  The elders use the benches.  At the very back, or if it is a well-to-do synagogue, in the balcony are the women.  Jesus, as a visiting rabbi, has been invited to read the scripture and comment on it, so he is near the front of the room where the ark is positioned.  The ark is the cabinet containing the Holy Scrolls.
So, Jesus is teaching and people are either enthralled or repealed by his words, when he spots the woman who can barely lift her eyes high enough to see him.  Jesus did the unthinkable.  No other Jewish man on earth that day would have done what he did.  His Twelve Apostles probably gasped out loud.  He asked the woman to come forward.
You have to understand that in the synagogue on Saturday, a man would not even look at his wife, even if she went into labor.  The other women would take care of her.  He probably wouldn’t even turn around for fear of catching a glimpse of her or any other woman.  And that was not just the Pharisees.  Even Jews who seldom went to synagogue would have known the rule.
I’m sure men were suddenly interested in the floor.  Let’s hope it has a beautiful mosaic to help them focus their attention away from the woman.  We wouldn’t want them to be defiled. Jesus, on the other hand, ignored all decorum.  He first spoke to her, then touched her.  I imagine some men hurried away at that point.  This was not a small infraction.  Jesus chose to do something that hit people between the eyes. He worked on the Sabbath by healing the woman.  He brought a woman to the front of the synagogue.  He spoke to a woman in the synagogue.  He touched a woman in the synagogue.  Tisk, tisk.
What was going on?  Why did Jesus make such a public display?  He had the power to heal the woman without even pausing in his teaching.  No one would have known the woman could now walk upright because of Jesus.
Which is the point; the people needed to know that Jesus had that power.  Psalms reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness.”  In Jeremiah, a pre-Messiah, God says, “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  The author of Hebrews writes of God saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” The Messiah is the power of God on earth to heal and fulfill.  The Messiah can take a bent, unfruitful fig tree and nourish it until it is as good as new.  He can un-bend a woman and give her new life.  He can untie her and lead her to living water.
The word “set free” in the NIV literally means “untie” which is instructive in verse 15 where the animals are untied to be watered. Two more notes about the healing.  Even the synagogue ruler believed that Jesus could heal the woman.  He simply wanted him to do it tomorrow, and not in his synagogue, thank you.  Which brings us to the last point I will make here; nothing is said about faith.  Many of the healing accounts have Jesus mentioning that faith healed the person, but not here.
Why?  I think the woman’s response tells us.  The woman already understood what had happened.  She praised God.  Not Jesus.  Healing comes from God as she knew.  We Christians sometimes forget God in our passion for Jesus.  Jesus never did.  He always gave God the credit, even when he hinted at or accepted the possibility that he might be God or the Son of God.  God is the source of all, period.
Be righteous and do good.
Mike Lawrence