Luke 13 – Redeeming the Pharisees

Luke 13 Bible with Theo Orange 70 Percent Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageLuke 13

So: I tried to shoehorn a point about modern-day Pharisaism into yesterday’s post, realized halfway through that it had little if anything to do with the text, and wisely scrapped it in favor of other topics. But Jesus’ teaching in today’s chapter actually pertains to the ideas I wanted to talk about. Looks like Pharisaism’s back on the menu, boys.

The Pharisees are frequent targets of criticism, not only in the gospels, but in our modern-day churches. Their restrictive approaches to the Law and the Sabbath, hierarchical and authoritarian religious practices, and ostentatious shows of righteousness drew considerable disapprobation from Jesus, and as a result, we’ve made them the poster children for legalism and hypocrisy. But I think we can take our anti-Pharisaism too far. If the Pharisees threw out the heart in favor of the head, we throw out the head in favor of the heart, and Jesus endorses neither of these courses of action.

In first-century Judea, there was apparently an idea going around that all suffering was deserved, especially really terrible or shameful suffering. A few of Jesus’ contemporaries present him with the case of “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices” (1), to whom Jesus adds the example of “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them” (4). (We might further consider the man born blind from John 9; the disciples assume either his parents committed some sin to deserve a blind son, or else God foresaw the man’s sin and preemptively punished him with blindness.) Jesus rebuffs the notion that the Galileans’ and Siloamites’ ignominious deaths were a punishment for some grievous evil. But in each case, he adds, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (3, 5). They might not have earned specifically the misfortune that befell them, but Jesus warns that we’re all just as deserving of death for our sins, and unless we repent and turn away from them, we’re just as dead.

Whatever criticisms of the Pharisees Jesus may have (and believe me, he has many), he doesn’t criticize them for not hating rules. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, he pays them a rather magnanimous compliment: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Doing the right thing is to be desired! Accepting God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean getting to go to heaven and in the meantime getting to do whatever the hell you want. The salvation God requires is not simply salvation from hell; it’s salvation from the self that would gleefully drag you down there. It’s salvation from the rule-breaking self, the evil self, the self that fails to measure up to the standard of loving God with all its heart, soul, and mind.

God doesn’t want us to love the rules more than we love him, but neither does he want us to express our love for him by throwing away his rules in favor of our feelings. He gave us those rules because he loves us and wants the best for us. And he offers us forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ when we fall short, but we have to repent.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Don’t be a Pharisee, but don’t assume being a Pharisee is the only way of getting it wrong.

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