2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12; Psalm 96:1-5;Matthew 23:13-22
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! (Matthew 23:13)
Aah, the Pharisees! We are all familiar with the many times they publicly harassed Jesus. It’s easy to let a quick reading of the Gospels give us a negative view of them. But who were they really?
The Pharisees came into existence just after the Maccabean Revolt around 175 b.c., when Jews were under intense pressure to abandon their faith and adopt Greek practices. The Pharisees were lay people, many of whom loved God and tried to help their people hold fast to the Law of Moses. In fact, the word “Pharisee” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separate,” emphasizing their desire to stay pure.
By the beginning of the first century a.d., the Pharisees were an educated group who studied the Scriptures and taught their fellow Jews how to follow God’s laws. After the Temple was destroyed in a.d. 70, the Pharisees survived as the predominant Jewish religious group, and they are considered the precursors to modern Judaism.
This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? So what was the problem with the Pharisees? Some of them—not all—had a very hard time accepting the idea that Jesus could be the Messiah. He didn’t fit into their expectations of ritual purity Saint Louisor adherence to Jewish traditions. Many of them saw Jesus as a revolutionary whose new teachings threatened their people’s identity as the chosen race. Their zeal for the Law kept them from being open to the new thing God was doing through Jesus.
We can all fall prey to the same challenges that trapped these Pharisees. We can balk in the face of something that upends our comfortable ways of looking at God or our faith. We can hold on to our traditions so tightly that we aren’t open to God doing something new and exciting.
So the next time you see the Pharisees in the Gospels, try not to look down on them right away. Remember their devotion and their love of God’s Law. Remember their heroic efforts to preserve Judaism in a hostile culture. But remember, also, to keep your heart open to the eternal newness of God’s plan!
“Jesus, you loved the Pharisees just as much as you love everyone else—including me! Help me to put aside anything that keeps me from being open to you!”~WAU