Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mild? I don't think so.

Have you seen paintings of Jesus in lovely pastoral scenes? His face is serene, and docile animals and children are nearby. These paintings, besides presenting Jesus as rather a boring (if sweet) character, leave out a whole lot about Jesus. Today's New Testament reading for example shows Jesus as anything but sweet and boring:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"

Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
Matthew 15:1-3
He goes on to describe exactly how they do that; he calls them hypocrites and blind guides.

Jesus doesn't come across as urbane or mild in this passage. He certainly isn't boring -- he is, as the Narnia characters say, "not a tame Lion."

Indeed, he doesn't suffer hypocrites gladly. Pious hypocrites seem especially to irk him. So I take this passage as a warning -- of an error to avoid.

But no Pharisee woke up one morning and said, "I want to become a pious hypocrite"; probably most of them started well, seeking to follow God. Somewhere along the way, they started focusing too much on the rules and not enough on knowing God himself -- so much so that when he came in person they didn't even recognize him.

I'm afraid there's a bit of the Pharisee in me: I tend to like rules. If I follow the rules, I feel like I'm all right, and if you don't follow them, I feel better than you.

But that's a completely wrong way of looking at life, and it's a temptation I must beware of, because I really don't want to end up like these pious hypocrites.

Jesus lived to bless others; he was focused on God, not on himself. Doesn't that sound like a better way to live? May God help you and me to go in that direction.

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