Tag Archives: pharisees

63. Pharisee (Empathy, Lent 4)

 

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Yesterday we ended by reminding ourselves not to be pharisaic. Well, maybe then, we need to look through the eyes of our inner Pharisee for a day, just to get a better understanding of why they look down on other people, and even themselves at times. Yes, I do think our inner Pharisees are driven as much by self-loathing as by the need to think themselves better than everyone else.

Look, I know I am better than them, because I try so much harder. I work at it. I push myself. God helps those who help themselves, you know. And he does. Look at where I am now, so far above all these layabouts and sinners! I’m saved, and now I can sit back and tell other people how to become as holy as I am, as close to the Lord as I am. I am helping them, really, by showing them such a good example. And I truly believe that if everyone were as strict with themselves as I am, if they really disciplined their minds and hearts to believe and feel the way I do, with calculated logic and good sense, then the world would be a better, more regimented place. We could leave all these dreadful, sinful urges behind us and really control ourselves, and our lives too.

There truly is no-one who does not look down their nose at other people at one time or another. And we think we are justified in doing so until we catch ourselves at it. Sometimes the prayer of examen (laying one’s soul bare before the Lord for correction and in repentance) also involves finding ways to be kind and compassionate to one’s own faults. That way we can hopefully extend mercy to those who share those same burdens.

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

Veil of Tears 105: Unwashed

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” Mark 7:1 NIV

There is an apocryphal story that surfaces on social media every so often of a pastor, newly appointed to a church, and largely unknown there, who turns up at a service a week before his induction disguised as a tramp. He is covered in ragged clothing and he smells. Though one or two people are kind, he is given a wide berth, snubbed and generally made to feel unwelcome, before being asked to leave. The following week he comes in as the new church leader and tells the congregation what he did to shame them into seeing the unwashed with new eyes.

I doubt the story is true, and I’m not sure that shaming is a particularly kind teaching method, but the fact that this could be true, ought to get everyone thinking who participates in any kind of community that professes to have Christ at its centre.

I don’t believe there is any record of Jesus ever being disgusted by anyone’s outer appearance, gender, race or hygiene. The only thing that seemed to revolt him was the stink of self-righteousness that he found most strongly radiating from the religious people of the day, from the Pharisees in particular. He spent time with tavern keepers, lepers, prostitutes, homeless people, disabled people, loose women, the deranged and the possessed. In short, with all those the “good” people deemed unclean and would not associate with.

He hung around with them, befriended them, taught them, healed them and forgave them when it was necessary. He and his crowd of travelling followers, often dusty and sweaty in the Middle East heat, were no doubt a bit wild and unkempt like the prophets of old, like John the Baptist who heralded Jesus’ arrival clothed in camel’s hair and with bits of honeyed locust in his beard. They were social pariahs, not the goody-two-shoes keeping-their-noses-clean puritanical religious elite.

You know what else? I don’t think Jesus’ robe was white that often. I think he probably needed (by our western modern running water standards) more trips to the river (bath/laundrette) and that he and twelve other blokes walking miles across the whole of Judea, with or without the hundreds of other followers of this strange parochial Rabbi, probably sweated and whiffed a bit on occasion. I think some of them probably swore now and again. I think that they were human and I like that idea.

I also think that if we get caught up in constantly cleaning ourselves on the outside and worrying incessantly about whether we are in a state of grace nor not, that we will spend too much time washing and confessing and not enough time relating and laughing with, learning from, adoring and pondering God. Besides which, if we leave our feet dusty, perspiring and tired, and admit they are made of clay, we might just find our Saviour-friend taking them in his hands over a bowl of water, giving us rest from our toil and removing the burdens from our striving shoulders.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

50: Idolising

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King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,a and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” Daniel 3:1 NIV

The culture of celebrity is a huge deal these days, but at least none of the walking egos that deign to grace our tv screens and magazines have gone to quite the lengths of King Nebuchadnezzar to persuade people to worship him. I’m sure there are some celebrity “personalities” who would like to have a 90-foot statue of themselves built out of pure gold, but fortunately none of them have gone that far just yet. Give it time and one of them will.

The scripture itself doesn’t specify that the statue is of the King himself, only that he sets it up and requires its worship, so it may in actual fact have been a statue of one of the Babylonian gods. But for our purposes let’s imagine it was of Nebuchadnezzar. Was this pure ego, or was it a canny way to discover those amongst his people who would not fall down and worship at his say so? Was it a way of controlling the populace? State religions have always had that dubious honour.

What might that do to a person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health, to be literally idolized in this fashion? I truly dread to think. And yet, we all do this to some extent. I mock the famous people I think are egotistical above, knowing full well I am no better than they. What right do I have to set myself up as judge over their behaviour? All measuring and judging comes from a place of smugness, or self-righteousness, or of a desperation to imagine ourselves better than someone else so that we can proclaim ourselves worthy or entitled. This is how the ego defends itself. And if the world tells you that you are right, by making you a king or an heiress or a billionaire, if the world watches your every move and records your image constantly, then this may well feed your grasping ego to the point where it nears bursting with pride, and where it feels completely natural and right to feel superior.

Religion can have similar effects. We only have to look at the Pharisees to see that. And there is an ugly kind of salvation smugness that believes itself now so incapable of sinning that it happily looks down its long nose at everyone else’s moral behaviour, and usually through a microscope. Let us never forget then, not even long enough to write a scathing opening paragraph, that we are each a child of God, beloved beyond ideas of merit, and that each life and path is so different that it is impossible and ill-advised to fall into any comparison. As soon as we do that, we start building that golden statue in the coldness of our hearts.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay of a golden statue of Buddha in Urumqi, China, not disparaging Buddhism, just wanted a picture that shows the scale of a large gold statue and surprisingly there aren’t that many about. J