It’s easy to keep up appearances, but Jesus challenges us to look inside and bring our hearts into line with his.
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
Sometimes as Christians, we get tired of hearing the whole “Christians are hypocrites” thing. Sure, even within the church, it’s easy for us to identify a few individuals here and there who we think give Christians a bad name. But mostly we know our brothers and sisters in Christ are kind and loving and take God seriously, just like we do. Right?
I (Geoff) have always been fascinated by the Pharisees. I can’t help but wonder: How much of their heartlessness, ego, and obsessive rule-keeping was actively and deliberately chosen? Conversely, how much of it was adopted from their elders, was habitual, or was inculcated in them from a young age? How much of their hard-heartedness, towards God and people, was chosen and how much was unthinking habit?
Clearly it was wrong, nevertheless. But perhaps a lesson we could take from the Pharisees is to really challenge our hearts. Perhaps we can ask ourselves what we take for granted as being core to Christian culture, and what we neglect. Perhaps we need an outside perspective. Maybe we need to read the Bible sitting in the Pharisees’ shoes, and hear what Jesus has to say.
In the passage, we see the Pharisees focussing on the outward parts of their religious activity and thinking that they are truly living for God. And while those things are treasured – Luke records Jesus stating that these tasks should not be left undone (v42b) – we are called to first practise justice and the love of God. The Pharisees are berated for their desire to be as outwardly righteous as they can be, without actually living with God in their hearts. And Jesus pities them for it! They may have been the ‘holiest’ men in town, but they didn’t really know God. Luke reminds us in verse 40 that the God who made our outsides (the person we show to the world) also made our insides – more specifically our heart. And the God that made each of our hearts knows each of our hearts. He knows what we treasure and what we strive for. He knows what we hope our Christian friends, mentors and peers think of us. He knows where our priorities lie, and he asks us to follow Jesus in directing them rightly.
We can strive to be ‘perfect Christians’ with perfect serving records, and a perfect Bible reading voice, but we will not be truly living as Jesus did until we are loving like Jesus is. We are called to be generous, loving and just. I wonder if Jesus was looking directly at us, while a Pharisee stood by our side, whether he would find a difference. Jesus aims to shock us, as he sought to shock the Pharisees, into taking these matters seriously.
Head: What are some things that might be commonly accepted as part of the Western Christian way of doing things that, like the Pharisees’ deeds, are more about looking Christian and seeking to belong than really being about justice? How do we justify, to ourselves, our focus on them?
Heart: Do you recognise any of the Pharisees’ idols in yourself? Greed, religiosity, judgmentalism, selfishness, hard-heartedness?
Hands: What is one concrete action you can take to actively live out generosity, justice and love of God (v 41-42) this week?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us a church in which there are so many beautiful ways to serve you. Turn our hearts Lord to hold love, forgiveness and justice first and to always strive to love others the way you did. Help us to be humble in the way we serve and keep us in the lives of those who keep us accountable. Help us to learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes, recognize our own, and to pass lovingly challenge each other to be disciples of yours. Amen
A song to listen to: Made Alive
Geoff Pryde and Maddie Pryde – Living Church Creek Road