Christian Pharisees

Image by Steven Shi from Pixabay


Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

These days, Pharisees get a lot of bad press, at least in Christian circles. Before we look at the parables in Luke, we need to understand why the Pharisees were so often at odds with Jesus.

There are only three historical sources of information about the group; the New Testament, Josephus, and the teachings of the Rabbis. The NT, you may have noticed, is negative. Josephus was himself a believer after the Pharisees. He was a Jewish historian who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He also mentioned both John the Baptizer and Jesus, the only non-Biblical source in the First Century to do so.

While the NT is suspect because of its negative comments about Pharisees, the Rabbis are suspect because they were mostly followers of the Pharisees. What we historians must do is find points of agreement among the sources and treat the disagreements carefully. As it happens, the disagreements are mostly in attitude—like Pharisees or not like Pharisees.

While there are many questions about them, the reports agree that the Pharisees were well versed in the Teachings of God; they took their religion seriously; they tithed; they prized ritual cleanliness; while many were wealthy, they lived a simple lifestyle; they were respected and looked up to by the common people. They disagreed with the Sadducees—most of whom were priests—on two key issues, they believed in life after death, and they believed everyone was free to make choices, thus rejecting predestination.

Notice how much of this description matches what we could list about Jesus. Why then was he so often at odds with them?

These two parables help answer that question. In the first verse of today’s reading, we see, Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear JesusNIV While we understand this to be an exaggeration, the Gospels do make clear that crowds of people formed wherever Jesus was teaching. It would be easy to say the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus, but that is far too simplistic.

In verse two, we read, And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” ESV Remember that the Pharisees were big on ritual purity. Maintaining that purity requires absolute avoidance of impure people. A Pharisee would never walk down Butcher’s Street in any town for fear of being splattered with blood. He would never talk with a woman outside his home. He would never walk with his wife in public. He would avoid conversation with a non-Jew, and then only at a safe distance. He would never allow a non-Jew to touch him. You get the picture.

It’s no wonder they were so upset to see Jesus in action. It is very much like American churches a century ago which condemned Jazz, dancing, liquor, eating where liquor was served, playing pool, un-chaperoned inter-gender get-togethers, even going to the movies. Much of the list is still in effect in some more conservative segments of our churches. The purpose was to avoid sin, just like the Pharisees.

Jesus spent much of his time with sinners. I think it is important for us to learn how he was able to do that without becoming a sinner.

Wouldn’t any man among you who owned a hundred sheep, and lost one of them, leave the ninety-nine to themselves in the open, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? Phillips The theme of the lost sheep, is familiar to everyone in Galilee and Judea. It was repeated in the OT numerous times. God is pictured searching for the lost sheep called Israel. No matter how many times Israel strayed, Israel’s Father searched for them and forgave them.

Consider the nature of sheep. They are driven by two powerful instincts, to be in the herd and to eat the choice grass. When one spots a tempting patch a little away from the herd, he forgets the herd and goes for the grass, soon to be lost. Realizing his lostness, he begins to bleat, listening for the sound of the herd or the shepherd.

Consider the shepherd. He has a hundred charges to keep track of, and while he knows each by sight, they do tend to look much alike. If he is busy leading a few back on one side of the herd and the tempted one wanders off, the shepherd must find him. First, he will call for the lost one by name; then he will trot the perimeter without losing sight of the 99. Only when all else fails will he put the 99 in danger, but he will search for the lost one.

It is no surprise that these two parables have the same message. Another example: what woman, if she has ten drachmas and loses one of these valuable coins, won’t light a lamp, sweep the house and search all over until she finds it? CJB Our first image is of our own houses where finding a dime—slightly larger than a drachma—would be an interesting search, but not hopeless.

Allow me to quote from the ESV Archaeology Study Bible footnote on this story. The floor of a village home around the Sea of Galilee was not covered with a flat, clean surface but rather composed of small rocks or packed earth. Because the common building material in the area was black basaltic rock, it was easy to lose small, thin coins in a house’s crack and crevices and difficult to sweep the house to find anything, even with the help of a lamp. As a result, Archaeologists have recovered hundreds of coins in the excavations of ancient homes, especially in the region of the Sea of Galilee. By the way, the drachma was roughly equal to the Roman denarius, each considered to be a day’s wage for working people.

The point of the two stories is that followers of Jesus are to search for the lost. The lost are people who do not accept God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus gave us the Good News to share with them. What is the Good News? God loves us, and God forgives us our sins.

If you are one of the 99, look for the lost one. If you don’t know God’s love, find someone who can share it with you.

Not every Christian can do it because too many of us don’t want to hang out with sinners and become contaminated. There really are Christian Pharisees.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here, and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Jesus’ Sword

Image by Edward Lich from Pixabay


Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Yesterday’s Gospel reading from Matthew prepares us for today’s reading in Luke. Jesus says much the same thing in both. Matthew: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of meESV Luke: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. ESV

But I think it will benefit us to look first at verses 10:38-39 in Matthew from Saturday. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and meMSG

This passage, especially Peterson’s version, clears up some of what Jesus said. Verse 34 in Matthew has the strongest statement, though Luke uses the word hate. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a swordESV If we stop with this portion of Jesus’ teaching, we miss his point.

Verse 36 of Matthew gives us the point.  A man’s enemies will be those who live in his own houseESV Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemiesMSG Jesus is not telling us to hate our family; rather, always put God first. If you want to give your inheritance to orphans, don’t let your family talk you out of it.

Jesus does expect us to take care of our families. And friends. And others in need. He is not telling us to leave our small children to raise themselves or to give up working for food. He knows we live in this world, not the next.

He expects that we will do God’s work in every setting, be it a job, traveling, eating; nothing is too mundane for us to look for God’s expectation of us. Consider Matthew 10:40-42. We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thingMSG

We have an unfortunate habit of expecting God to ask us to do something big; we overlook all the seemingly unimpressive little bits that make up our lives. Sometimes God simply wants me to keep my mouth closed; not to say what I’m thinking. Who knows how many arguments, and even wars, could have been avoided with that simple non-act?

Why did Jesus say, I have come to bring a sword? On one level, he may have been thinking of his ultimate victory over evil when he yields the sword—Revelation 1:16; A sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouthPhillips But I think it is more likely his meaning regards getting us to slice the bond between ourselves and this world. He knows how difficult it is for us to do; after all, he lived 33 years on this earth experiencing the same flea bites and hunger we experience.

Jesus knows, as does God that in a perfect world, we will all love our spouses and children. But we will love God more. In this world, we must learn to practice that same love.

Think about military training, especially ground-pounders. Even in basic training, everyone is taught to kill the enemy. Advanced infantry training pounds it in—kill, kill, kill. Follow orders despite the human wish not to die. Risk your death to get the job of killing done.

The training of Jesus is similar, risk your own life to get the job done. The job of loving everyone, helping all the needy we can help, putting God ahead of self.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence