In the Gospels, Jesus has lots of conversations with the Pharisees, the self-proclaimed elite of Palestine who dedicated themselves to fulfilling every detail of Jewish law. The Pharisees looked down on the common people. I have been reading a good bit of the Gospels lately, and I’ve been wondering why there are so many passages where Jesus has confrontations with the Pharisees.
I’ve come to the conclusion that–if we’re all being honest here–there’s a little bit of Pharisee in all of us. And because God knows Christians should know better than to be self-righteous, I’m calling us out on it!
Mark Twain once said that, “Man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.”
Ouch. Because it’s true and shouldn’t be.
I’ve seen too many of my brothers and sisters in faith cutting people down by gossip or even verbal attack (well-intentioned or not!) over differences in the ways they’ve choose to live out their Christian faith.
And it’s so, so harmful.
First, I think that there are fundamentals of Christianity that necessarily mean that you live your life and treat others a certain way. Beyond those fundamentals, however, are lifestyle choices and actions that come with having a deeper relationship with God. That’s where the Pharisees of today come in. I’ve seen too many people turned off to otherwise fantastic people, families, parishes and even religions because of feeling judged or verbally attacked on what we’ll call “non-fundamentals.”
Again, I’m no theologian, and I know that it’s probably impossible to get all Christians to agree on exactly what those “fundamentals” are! However, I think that the answer to that question lies in what you have to believe–and (hopefully) do–in order to call yourself a Christian.
Off the top of my head: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul. Realize that you need God, and that He loves you and every soul on earth with a passion you can’t even fathom. Respect the dignity of human life. Humble yourself in every possibly way and situation. Seek God’s will and plan for your life. Put others before yourself.
In the end, if we Christians understand even one thing about what Jesus was trying to teach us with all of those confrontations with the Pharisees, it should be that we all need to take our self-righteousness out with the trash, for “anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Matthew 23:12