The Religious Leaders - Selfish Pride

Feb 18 2018


                                                THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS - SELFISH PRIDE

What was Jesus’ vehement objection to the Pharisees? And who were members of this group of individuals that raised such anger and ire in Jesus? The Pharisees were actually a sect within Judaism that believed religion was centered within strict observance of religious law. They interpreted the obligations of the law in the most severe manner possible. They carried the requirements of the law to extremes. The problem was that they observed the outward trappings of the law without bothering to live the inward meanings of the law.

The Talmud, a set of sacred Jewish writings, alludes to the same faults in the Pharisees that we find in the New Testament. Their hostility towards Jesus appears from the very beginning in Gospel accounts and comes from a position of fear – fear that Jesus would challenge them as religious leaders, which he did; fear that Jesus would erode their following among the people, which he did; and fear that He might turn the current political leaders, reasonably tolerant of the Pharisees, against them.

In the final analysis, they turned the people against Jesus. The Pharisees are a good example of what happens when guidance becomes doctrine and authority becomes complete. Their lives were centered around the law. They believed themselves to be better than others because of their observance of the law. And they believed, as a result, that anyone who challenged them, or presented a new way of coming to God was wrong.

They are an example of what occurs time and again in organized religion. It becomes exclusive. “We believe that we have the right way to God” becomes “We believe we have the only way to God.” That leads to excluding all who do not believe as that particular denomination believes. Unfortunately, that is not restricted to the time of Jesus.

“A Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor was assailed for joining an interfaith event. His participation was called heresy. To the Rev. David Benke the ceremony at Yankee Stadium was a blessing, an opportunity to join other religious and civic leaders in offering comfort to a nation raw from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He joined the celebrities and politicians on stage to sing patriotic songs and to pray. It was, he thought, his duty as a pastor. But some fellow clergymen took quite a different view. They saw his participation as heresy. Six pastors from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod filed formal charges calling for Benke’s expulsion from the church.

Benke ‘participated in idolatry by participating with non-Christians’ at the Sept. 23 service, said one of the dissidents. He and another of the dissidents also accused Benke of “syncretism,” which means promoting the view that all religions are equal.

The ten-page petition against Benke called his participation in the New York ceremony ‘an egregious offense against the love of Christ’ that gave ‘the impression that the Christian faith is just one among many by which people may pray to God.’

According to these critics, by standing alongside “heretics” such as Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians of other denominations, Benke implicitly endorsed their faiths, giving the impression that all offer an equal path to salvation.

Rev. Paige Patterson, a former president in the Southern Baptist Convention has often been quoted as sating, ‘I do not have an ecumenical bone in my body.’” (Article quoted in “The New Revelations – A Conversation with God” by Neale Donald Walsch, pp. 43 – 44. 

It isn’t just a Lutheran problem. It’s a problem with anyone in any religious denomination who believes that his or her interpretation of a relationship with God is the only right one. The Pharisees didn’t get it when Jesus tried to explain to them and to the people the important things are that God loves us, that we love one another, and that we try to live that love in our lives. There are still multitudes of people today who don’t get it.

It’s not even an issue of syncretism, a belief that all religions are equal. It’s an issue of spirituality that calls individuals to determine and live a personal relationship with that entity that we call God. It’s an issue of spirituality that calls us to find that portion of God that lies deep within us and listen to its voice.

Jesus was the voice of God in His time. His words touched the people because they finally realized that God does not call for outward signs of religion, but inward signs of faith. The people finally realized that while they could not read the old words, they could listen to the new words and those words rang true to their hearts.

Jesus repeatedly accused the Pharisees of outward appearance and inward filth. He told them that they washed the outside of the cup, but the inside was full of greed and self-indulgence. He called them white-washed tombs that are beautiful on the outside, but full of bones and filth on the inside. He accused them of tithing and neglecting the weightier matters of the law like mercy and justice and faith. He called them hypocrites, and rightly so.

The beginning of the 21st century is seeing a gigantic spiritual revival. People are buying books about spirituality because they are realizing that their religion does not answer their questions. People are church-hopping because they have needs that cannot be addressed in organized religion.

But the real issue is not whether we can address our needs in a particular denomination, but whether we can be inclusive enough to understand that religion is a function of culture. Spirituality is a function of the heart. Religions teach exclusivity. Spirituality calls us to inclusivity and love.

The real issue is whether we can move beyond the boundaries of denominationalism and understand that God speaks in all languages to all people. The culture may vary. The customs may vary. We may call God by a different name, but the relationship that each of us forms with that God and how that relationship affects our relationships with other people will be the ultimate challenge of the 21st century. What we do will either lift us out of the mire of wars and greed, or lead us to self-destruction.

We do not need the Pharisees to challenge God's words to us in the 21st century; we have many denominations that will do that. They preach the same exclusivity and arrogance that was the message of the first century Pharisees. May God guide us to the truth and to a deeper relationship with God and one another, in spite of what modern-day Pharisees are saying. Amen.