My heart breaks every time I read responses to vulnerable stories that are condemning and harsh. Filled with, for lack of better terminology, Pharisaic Catholicism. Responses that are filled with indignation and condemnation, righteous pointing-out-of-errors of another person, and hate-like insults thrown toward anyone who sides differently.
It’s not that I don’t feel that way at times too, and sometimes it’s hard to reign in my fingers from typing hurtful things (and it escapes me sometimes and I regret it later), but Jesus did not die on the cross for us to hurl insults at each other about who is more “pious” than the other. Although I’d love to believe that I’m more pious because I celebrated the Octave of Easter fully, or because I tithe more than that family over there, or any other act that might be good in itself, but becomes tainted by sin when our pride leads us to believe that we have more right to God and to sharing God’s message than any other person. Jesus has a parable about this:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Luke 18: 9-14
When we try to promote ourselves over God’s message of mercy and love, just as the Pharisees did, Jesus has the exact same message for us. We are not exempt from his criticisms of the pride of the Pharisees.
The plight of the Pharisees: how can we accept this man and his message without throwing out our long-held beliefs and traditions? Beliefs and traditions handed to us by most holy men whom God had hand-selected to lead us? How is he greater than what we already have? … How can I let this person on the internet say this thing about God even though it’s not exactly as prescribed in my belief in our faith? The obvious answer is that it is me verses them. My faith verses their (*coughcough*) faith.
The Jewish people lived in a time of great turmoil – we know how they were ruled over by the Romans and begrudged this mastery. They were being persecuted, which rightly brings out a need to preserve their way of life and their beliefs. It was, in many ways, the task of the Pharisees to preserve. It is also human nature to turn to this preserving culture when there is great stress/change, and it is understandable, even if we see how it restricted people’s access to God’s love for them and we see how unjust it was in reflecting God’s relationship with his people.
The problem with taking on that attitude now, as Christians, is that it gives in to fear. Fear gives birth to defensiveness, whether warranted or not. But we have no reason to fear. Christ has already won the war – we have been given the freedom to know our confidence in God is not misplaced. We know God has triumphed over death and that the Holy Spirit is actively working in the world. We have a part to play – that of listening to the movement of the Spirit in our lives and responding to it. The fruits of the spirit are not present when we sow seeds of hate, when we cry out saying, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” (Mk 9:38). But you know what Jesus told his disciples and continues to tell us? “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Mk 9:39-41).
What makes me better than the person next to me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is wholly nothing we can do in this life to grant us salvation and there is no earthly way of knowing the state of another person’s relationship with God. It is only through the overabundant mercy of the Father that we have any hope for salvation. It is God’s call to determine who receives that mercy, and when we place restrictions on that (for example, sowing seeds of disunity and hate) then we are not preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus. That would be the Gospel of the Pharisaic Catholic.
It’s the second week of Easter – our task is to go and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, and he is truly the only claim we can ever boast without proclaiming ourselves. This good news? What does it look like? How will we know we are proclaiming Christ? By our love. They’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Happy Easter! I am hosting a giveaway on my blog, ajk2.ca for Audrey Assad’s new CD: Inheritance! Jump over to my website to enter the giveaway! It is open until 11:59pm CST Tuesday evening, April 5. Good luck!
Copyright 2016 Jane Korvemaker.