Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Whipping Boys

I’m dealing with a little writer’s block at the moment.  As I try to dial down into what I’m supposed to writing about, I keep hitting on something.  So I’m writing this in an effort to clear some of the blockage.

You know who it’s o.k. for Evangelical Christians to hate?  Especially Charismatic Evangelical Christians?  You might be guessing President Obama or anybody who tries to take their guns away or maybe even Democrats.  But no, our real whipping boys are the Pharisees.  I suppose it’s a posthumous sort of hate but then we also love to whip the name label out and use it on anybody who makes even the remotest suggestion that God is unlikely to do what we say he does or that our behavior may, in some way, be affecting our relationship with God.


And we make careless judgments about the Pharisees simply because it’s o.k. to hate “them.”  We somehow feel like we know them and know them well simply because we've read about them in the Gospels and we've met them in everyone who ever said, “No.” to us or we feel is opposing the “current move of God” which, when translated, usually means, “Us.”

Can I respectfully request, on behalf of Pharisees past, present and future, a moratorium on judgment?  At least ignorant judgment?  Can I plead with you to read an actual history book (a real history book, not someone’s supposed conversation with an angel, Abraham or one or more aspects of the Trinity)?  Just take a step back and forget what you think you know about the Pharisees and try to understand what they were really all about?

Why does this matter to me?  It might be because I am, in fact, a recovering Pharisee in the most metaphorical sense.  But it’s also because I think good exegesis matters and telling people what Jesus meant when he talked to Pharisees or what the Pharisees meant when they talked to Jesus or about Jesus gets hopelessly muddled when you don’t bother to learn who they were and what they were up to.  Partly it matters to me because often, the very people I hear railing against Pharisees are acting so firmly in the Pharisaic tradition that it makes my head implode from the force of irony.

I know, I know.  Pharisees were the recipient of some of the fiercest criticism from Jesus.  I get that.  But it wasn't because they were “opposing the current move of God.”  Jesus wasn't just the “current move of God.”  To equate some present day revival or ecstatic experiences with the Incarnation fails either to understand the Incarnation or over-inflate our ecstatic experiences.

The reality is that Pharisees simply wanted what you want.  They wanted God to come and save the people of God in the land of their Exile.  They chose a path among other movements of their time, that they thought would hasten the deliverance of God’s people from oppression and tyranny of the Romans. When they tried to put a stop to Jesus or they wanted him to shut up, they weren’t all that worried about protecting their “turf” from the “new move of G-d.”  They knew the Romans were as volatile as Yosemite Sam locked in a room full of TNT by Bugs Bunny.  An explosion was imminent and they were not ready for that.  They were both wrong and right when they assessed that it would be better for one man to die than for all of Israel to perish.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  Paul was a Pharisee.  After his conversion he will even declare to a crowd that he is (present tense) a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees.  Many Pharisees believed and followed the Way after Jesus’ resurrection.

Here’s an old blog post at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed that might help clarify some things for you: CLICK HERE.

Part of why this matters to me is because of how dangerous it is for us to judge and talk about the Pharisees the way we do.  The danger is this: it helps us hide from the reality that they are often us.  With our best intentions we want God to move, for God to set his people free, for God to crush his enemies and make this a safe place for us all to live.  And we want him to do it just the way we think is best.  Typically we want to make the Other a Pharisee when the Gospel calls us to stop making Others and catch the revelation that we are all victims, all perpetrators, all in need of forgiveness, all needing to forgive.

Our favorite Whipping Boys, the Pharisees, need some time off and maybe that will help us give some time off to the people we feel like are our opposition.  Paul, the old Pharisee, seemed to get it into his mind that it’s not flesh and blood we wrestle with but powers and principalities.  Now, before you launch out on saying the next person who doesn't agree with you has a Pharisaical spirit, be sure to decide if you mean like Nicodemus or Paul or just exactly which Pharisee you mean and why you feel the way you do.

The bottom line is that it’s not o.k. to hate people.  Period.  And sticking labels on them, especially labels we don’t fully understand, is just a shade of hate.  Tell me you don’t hate them, that’s fine, that’s what I’ve said too.  But let’s be honest here, while it’s just you and me alone in your head with no one else listening in: it’s hard not to hate people who we feel oppose us, don’t like us or we feel judge us.  We learn how to use spiritual sounding words to turn ‘hate’ into ‘righteous indignation’, eh?  What’s a little white-wash between friends, eh?

Of course, this is exactly what a Pharisee would say, wouldn't they?

o.k. pump is primed, back to work now...

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