Monday, February 16, 2015

To Test Him

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.  He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?  Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”  Mark 8:11-12
"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. ... I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering." (Letter from Kayla Mueller to her family, 2011)
The Pharisees are almost more badly portrayed in the New Testament than Judas.  Judas was the betrayer but the Pharisees were the “unindicted co-conspirators” of Jesus’ downfall.  Even in our Cursillo talks, we warn candidates from becoming like Pharisaical Phil – that fictitious, holier-than-thou practitioner of extreme piety.
In the article “Quit Picking on the Pharisees,” appearing in this month’s issue of Sojourners magazine (, subscription required), author Amy-Jill Levine explains:
PEJORATIVE COMMENTS about racial and ethnic minorities, GLBTQI people, and the poor appropriately receive public censure. But say something negative about Pharisees, and the response is likely to be a hearty “amen.”
When anti-Pharisaic comments appear, especially from church pulpits or Christian magazines, few complain. And when correctives are suggested, the responses are usually something like, “Of course not all Pharisees were money-loving, sanctimonious hypocrites.” The comparison to other bigoted comments—“Of course not all Latinos are illegal; of course not all African Americans are lazy”—should tell us how insufficient the excuses are.
Just as we are heirs of centuries of racism, we are heirs of two millennia of negative stereotypes about of Pharisees, and by extension, of Jews.
Even Pope Francis recently spoke about Pharisees as “Close-minded men, men who are so attached to the laws, to the letter of the law, that they were always closing the doorway to hope, love and salvation.”  Author Levine tries to reconstruct some history about these testy and testing Pharisees.  After all, the majority of Jews elected to follow them and not the blooming church of Christ’s Devine Instigation.  Among her key points are:
  •  There is no source to the claim that the destitute would be damned and the rich rewarded.  She points to a comparison of Psalms 37:10-11 to the Beatitudes. (“Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there.  But the poor will inherit the earth, will delight in great prosperity.”).  In fact, the social justice of the Gospel is echoed in the writing of Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else.”
  • The Pharisees expanded priestly roles from the Temple to the people so that rich and poor alike, women and men could sanctify their bodies and their homes.
  • Jesus set the bar of righteousness high – not opposed to the Pharisees but in synch with them.  (“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20)

Jesus did not accept the status quo.  Neither should we.
Are you too still thinking a lot about how Kayla Mueller lived and the values that she put into action?  Maybe we are not all called to cross the border and venture into Syria, but can you cross a cultural border in your own home town?  Can you cross an economic border?  Can you cross a social border?

When you cross these borders, you gain greater insight into the shoes of those on the other side – be they Pharisees, Jews, the poor, or the powerless. 

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