Summary: The Church of the 21st century needs to evaluate itself in terms of Christ’s judgments and demands.
Matthew 23:1-4, 23-28, 33
“Could I Be A Pharisee?”
By: Rev. Kenneth Sauer, Pastor of Parkview UMC, www.parkview-umc.org
When Ben was a lot younger, he asked me an intriguing theological question—to which I had no answer.
“Why,” he asked, “did God create chiggers, ticks, and gnats?”
Anyhow, within our text for this morning, we get a glimpse of the humorous style Jesus sometimes adopted when making a point.
In verse 24, Jesus tells the teachers of the law and Pharisees: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Both the gnat and the camel were considered to be unclean animals, and the strict Pharisee would carefully strain his wine through a cloth to make sure he didn’t swallow a gnat.
But in their eagerness to avoid being polluted by a very tiny defilement…the Pharisees were blind to the fact that they were actually polluted by a very big one—a camel.
I think that one of the things Jesus is trying to get through our heads in this lesson is “Don’t major in the minors!”
The Pharisees were, no doubt, sincere in their religion…but they were inflexible.
When it came to the issues that God cares about the most—“justice, mercy and faithfulness,” they tended to attach themselves more to the judgment of others, and a strong adherence to the strict letter of the Law as they saw it.
And in doing so…in neglecting the most important part of the Law…Paul tells them in Romans 2:24: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Both Jesus and Paul called them hypocrites—for the very things they condemned in others…well, they did themselves.
Have you ever found yourself doing that?
If not, pay attention, its an easy thing to do.
I fear that what was true 2,000 years ago…often holds true today…many folks outside of the Church…Blaspheme God’s name because of us!!!…
…because we are so often so concerned with straining out a gnat—that we swallow a camel!
It is much easier to condemn others, than to see the plank in our own eyes.
It’s the easy way to evade responsibility and excuse our own wrong doing.
Jesus said of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
In other words, they would load people down with guilt, judgment and condemnation…
…and then, having done this, they would condemn them as godless!
Is it not true that God’s Word and Law can be imposed upon people in such a strict way that any sense of mercy is lacking?
Yes, all kinds of problems can arise out of a condemning and judgmental attitude toward others.
We are all sinners, and we all fall short of God’s glory.
None of us can stand up under the burden of the strict letter of the Law.
To try and do so, would cause insanity!!!
When Paul got in trouble for having converted Gentiles (that is, non-Jews) to Christianity without first requiring them to be circumcised, and become Jews…there was something similar to our ‘General Conference’ that took place in Jerusalem.
It was the first Christian Conference, and James, the brother of Jesus was the presiding Bishop.
“The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses,” shouted the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees.
In defense of Paul’s position, the disciple of Jesus, Peter, spoke up: “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Bishop James made the final decision: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Do we, as the Christian Church, in the twenty-first century, make it difficult for others to turn to God by putting on them “a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”
If so, then in what arenas are we doing this?
What judgments are we casting down upon our fellow human beings—that makes it difficult for them to turn to God?…
…that makes the Church of Jesus Christ look like a hypocritical, bigoted group of nutcases to much of the world?
Remember, it is Christ Who invites: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
May the Lord have mercy, and cause this to be the message we send to the burdened and weary!