Read Luke 11:37-44
37 While he was speaking,a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him,”Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish,but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see,everything will be clean for you.
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds,and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced,without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves,and people walk over them without realizing it.” (NRSV)
If someone calls you a Pharisee,don’t treat it as a compliment. They were opponents of Jesus who ultimately drove him to the cross. They had their own ideas of religious observance and Jesus didn’t agree. They had their own ideas of what a Messiah would be like and Jesus didn’t conform. So the word has gone down in history to describe religious hypocrites and insensitive legalists.
But it was not always like that. The Pharisees began as a group of patriotic Jews who refused to give in to the occupying powers of the Greek empire. They stubbornly insisted on keeping to the biblical laws despite being horribly persecuted and tortured because of it. They were the strong heroes of faith in those days. What happened?
Their strength became their weakness. Holding on to Scripture became a bigoted clinging to the letter of the law while neglecting the spirit of the law. Refusal to surrender to the pagan Greeks became refusal to surrender to the claims of Jesus. Protecting the people from pagan corruption became burdening the people with oppressive man-made rules.
Then and now our ‘strengths’ can undo us. Our strong faith can become arrogance. Our love of Scripture can become legalism. Our love of church can become ritualism. Our hatred of evil can become blindness to good. While we rightly shake our heads at the folly of the Pharisees,we need to recognise there is something of the Pharisee in each of us.