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KINGS AND KINGDOMS series Part IV: THE KINGDOM’S BLIND GUIDES

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KINGS AND KINGDOMS series 

Part IV: THE KINGDOM’S BLIND GUIDES


Yesterday we published THE CONVERSION OF ST PAUL: FROM PHARISEE TO FOLLOWER. Today, we celebrate that feast… and also publish the last part of our kingdom series. Today’s article sheds some light on the religious life that Paul left to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

In this “KINGS AND KINGDOMS” series we have observed some meanings of the term “king” and aspects of the kingdom of God—primarily as Jesus, Himself, taught. We looked at the implications in our honoring Jesus as King and we reviewed many scriptures about the kingdom. The Kingdom of God has One entry Door: the Person of Jesus Christ. We continue to look at the kingdom of God—particularly at what opens the way for us, and what makes it difficult for us to enter.


RAISE YOUR HAND IF

Picture this: You are at a church liturgy or gathering. The pastor is giving an inspiring sermon—it’s interactive. He asks a few easy questions of the congregation, and then he asks (in a friendly voice with a big smile on his face) “…And how many Pharisees do we have here today? Raise your hands…” The congregation slowly starts to go more quiet and no hands are raised. Somehow, whatever the people vaguely remember (from Bible readings or church scriptures about Pharisees) does not want to make their hands shoot up eagerly into the air…

The point is vividly made: “Pharisee” is not a label most of us want to identify with. In the past three parts of our series on Kings and Kingdoms, we have mentioned some scriptures and some characteristics of this now-questionable but then highly esteemed group from the Gospels. There must be good reason why Jesus continued in verse after verse to warn against these religious leaders… and one reason was that they were neither good examples of the kingdom, nor helpful for those who desired to come to the truth and love, salvation and healing, deliverance and blessings that Jesus Christ came and died to give.

St. Paul turned 180 degrees against his exquisite Pharisaical training and practice to follow Jesus Christ. Part IV here looks deeper into how all this relates to the truth and life that Jesus came to give. It sets us up to understand St. Paul’s “about face.” (See more details concerning his story in our previous blog article.)

GOING TO HEAVEN?

Many people live their lives hoping and praying that heaven is their destination after this life. Some believe it is like a roll of the dice. What does Jesus say about heaven… the kingdom of heaven? Earlier we mentioned that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are fairly interchangeable concepts. In this series, we have been describing and looking at what scriptures say about “kingdom” and Jesus as King... and the concept of "king" in general. We found that we can make choices for His kingdom right here, in our own lives. In this blog article, we will look at the kingdom of heaven and more of what Jesus has to say about it.

What it takes to “go to heaven” is a concept that theologians of all kinds have argued and described and tried to identify for centuries. That is not the task of this series. We will, however, continue to look at the kingdom of heaven as Jesus and the Bible speak of it. In that way, we can give some description of how we can be part of that kingdom—as we live on earth. For instance, we could be British citizens with allegiance to the Queen of England, and still live in America. We can consider it as that "real", since Jesus described it as “near” and “at hand”, as we saw in earlier series articles.

Briefly, those who are part of God’s kingdom are: followers of Jesus Christ; they choose Him, going through Him as the “door” of salvation… loving God (or honestly seeking towards it) with their whole hearts; they seek to love God and to love others—as Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets (see Part III). They move past “regret” and on to “repentance”: seeking to move toward a change of heart, and, from that, allow the Holy Spirit to help form “good fruit” [Gal 5:22-23] in them. They seek to choose actions that come deliberately from hearts that have chosen to love God first and others at least as much as themselves… or more as God calls them (or us) to do.


PHARISEES: HOW DO THEY FIT INTO THE KINGDOM?

The Pharisees have been mentioned in other parts of this series. In this Part IV we will go into more detail—with many scriptures—showing how they related to the kingdom of God, and why Jesus (and John the Baptist) warned the people about them.

To give a thumbnail sketch:

The Pharisees were very good at detailed and duplicitous religious practice, emphasizing the less important items of their religious law and failing to practice the deeper, foundational and more important aspects of God’s law—particularly love, from the heart—according to Jesus.

There are some social factors that may enable this. The more complex that a culture or a religion (in its own sacred devotional spiritual life) gets, the easier it is to “look” and “feel” religious by having a lot of religious things to do that appear and feel pious. Jesus asks for a following from the heart. (So also did God the Father make that clear through the Psalms and the prophets in the Old Testament when He spoke about the heart.) That means that what we do is sometimes or often done unseen by others, or in private. Jesus said not to let the “right hand know what the left hand is doing.”

The Pharisees did not focus on loving deeply. What they did have as their focus were many external religious deeds performed to be highly visible to others. This also fed their own self-righteousness—meeting their own criteria for feeling and appearing to be “good”.

LOVE FROM THE HEART—TOWARD GOD AND OTHERS

The love that Jesus described is not the same as an emotional reaction of love, as our culture often sees it. It is agape love. The love Jesus asks for is a truly unselfish choice that comes from deep within. Choosing to love God, as Jesus taught, was described from early in God’s relationship with His people, Israel. That kind of love is a major life-choice—and it’s part of living in the kingdom. “Moving” to the kingdom of God is as real and significant a choice as… say… moving to another neighborhood or state. The difference is, it's our hearts and minds that move. The changes are more internal, and not acted out with great fanfare. There is a new way of life to be learned, chosen and lived. We walk it out very much in this world.

“ ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Mt 22:37-40]. There is no greater commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:31]

We are particularly to love and give care to the “least” and those in need, as many scriptures show. [see Mt 25:45-46] Scripture also tells us that if we do not love the brother (whom we see) then we cannot say that we love God (whom we do not see).

The Good Samaritan parable shows us that, even when we are religious leaders or we minister in some way, we are still called to humble loving service. Even if we are on our way to “church”, we still need to prioritize loving compassion towards a stricken, injured, needy, unattended one—however inconvenient the timing is to our busy, important, religiously driven schedules.… At least, that is one thing this parable from Jesus seems to say.

Jesus spoke about what comes from the heart in the book of Matthew:

“…The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Mt 15:18-20]

Washing hands was part of Hebrew religious practice. But to fail to do even this wise and common religious ritual did not define the man as unholy. Jesus referred to the heart to show that God sees deeper than superficial actions.

In previous parts of this series, we have given scriptures about entering the kingdom of God... coming to Jesus to follow Him, and making Him King of our lives. In part, this involves hunger and seeking; humility; repentance and choosing to change; desiring the truth and new way in life… to find the Way, Truth and Life; etc.

“The king will say, ‘Inherit the kingdom prepared for you by my Father… for I was hungry… thirsty… a stranger… naked… ill… in prison… and you fed me… gave me drink…welcomed me… clothed me… cared for me’… The king will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did… you did it for me!” [Mt 25:34-40]


WHAT HINDERS US FROM THE KINGDOM?

What about the opposite? “ ‘I was a stranger… naked… sick…in prison… but you would not take care of me.’… The king will reply, ‘I tell you whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ “ This time, Jesus directly and plainly connected the kingdom of heaven with the reality of going to heaven or hell. “… and these will go off into eternal punishment [prepared for the devil and his angels] but the righteous to eternal life.’“ [Mt 25:41,43,45,46]

Again, much has to do with our hearts… Jesus knows that we will love and prefer some things and some people in this world over some others, but... He is speaking to what we love "more" and "most". "Idolatry" is, basically, loving anything more than God... and it gets in the way of important life-choices. 

How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Mk 10:23-25]

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him.  And he said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.” [Luke 16:14-15]

More about trouble entering the kingdom…

Jesus often warned about the Pharisees, Sadducees and Publicans. He gave many examples of why the people should not follow their example. All the religious deeds that they carefully practiced would not add up to a heart that was right with God… unless God saw real love there. One warning was this:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” [Mt 16:6]

What exactly did they do to be considered undesirable leaven by Jesus? Although we go into more detail on leaven later in this blog article, here are some more scriptures to help paint a picture of what these respected leaders of His time found lacking in Jesus (and accused Jesus of). Later, we will get into more destructive and insidious patterns that came against Jesus’ ministry and desire to shepherd God’s people.


SOME SCRIPTURES ON THE PHARISEES

~~They criticized their forefathers saying that they, themselves, would have done things right.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments …and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets…. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?" [Mt 23]

~~They desired signs from Jesus as proof of Who He is. Signs, in themselves, are not an issue with a heart honestly seeking the truth. There are examples of signs given in the Bible. But the Pharisees were neither seeking to believe the truth, nor open to the truth. They were not open to Jesus, either (Who IS the Truth), so no amount of signs would have been enough....

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” [Mt 12:38]

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven." [Mt 16:1]

~~They accused Jesus of eating with sinners and not fasting enough.

“When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” [Mt 9:11]

“Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” [Mt 9:14]

~~They accused Jesus of casting out demons by the devil’s power.

“But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” [Mt 9:34]

“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” [Mt12:24]

“Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw.” [Mt 12:22]

~~They said that Jesus’ disciples did not honor the Sabbath.

“But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” [Mt 12:2]

~~Jesus emphasized humility, not exalting oneself as Pharisees did.

"Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be a servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” .[Mt 23 10]

“Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. [Luke 20:46]

“All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.” [Mt 23:5]

~~They sought to kill Jesus.

But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father [who is not Abraham as you say].” [Jn 8:40-41]

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” [Jn 8:44]

“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” [Mt 12:14]

So they killed Him…

“I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has no power over Me… but … I do just as the Father has commanded Me.” [Jn 14:30]

~~They were conniving.

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” [Mt 22:15]

~~They failed to bring God’s ways of living in truth and love.

“Amen, amen I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” [Jn 10:1]

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved [will live], and will go in and out [freely] and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly [to the full, till it overflows].” [Jn 9-10]

“I am the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [Jn 10:11]


OUR KING: CARING AND PROTECTIVE AS A MOTHER HEN

All the people Jesus came to save, and continually met in everyday life—in the marketplace, in synagogues, etc—were deeply felt by Jesus to be His flock. (He spoke about the Good Shepherd in the gospel of John chapter 10, as quoted above.) All their care (or lack of tender care, meaningful formation and loving, truth-filled teaching) deeply grieved Him.

Jesus told the people:

“The Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” [Mt 23:2]

He was grieved and sometimes angry at what He saw in the Pharisees… how they formed (or mal-formed) the attitudes, minds and hearts of those they led and taught. The Pharisees led the people in directions that too often were not loving… nor did they give the people the new “life” that Jesus desired to bring them. These teachers of the law put them in danger of ‘absorbing’ the same attitudes and priorities that they had. [See “LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES” later in this article.] For wisdom teaches us that what we learn is as much “caught” as “taught”. Attitudes and perspectives (especially when they come from strong leaders, or highly controlled/ controlling leadership) are particularly vulnerable to being “caught”. If fear or intimidation or guilt are included in the presentation, they become harder to resist. It is no wonder Jesus was concerned.

Jesus knew what His people experienced regarding religious leaders, for He, Himself, had had much religious training. Even at 12 years old, He had deeply impressed the religious leaders in the temple. (Luke 2:41-52) Remember when He was “lost” and spending time there, after his parents went home thinking He was with them?

Jesus had multiple concerns: Not only were the Pharisees NOT caring for His sheep well, and not leading them toward love of God and others, nor helping them to do so, but they were keeping them from recognizing Who Jesus really IS, so that they could turn to Him and be saved, tended and well-formed.

He also used the analogy of a mother hen:

“Jesus mourned and grieved over Jerusalem. He said, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling’.” [Mt 23:37]


THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES

From all of the above scriptures and for all of the above reasons, Jesus used the image of “leaven” in a negative sense as an analogy for the Pharisees. Their priorities, ways, thoughts and values kept getting in the way of God’s people’s ability to look in the right direction toward the kingdom… or move toward preferring God’s ways and thoughts above their own.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [Mt 16:6]

“How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [Mt 16:11]

“Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [Mt 16:12]


So… we come to another “list” of issues that Jesus had with Pharisees that were especially problematic to people’s moves toward and good formation in the kingdom of God as Jesus taught it. These are more comprehensive, insidious and destructive “leavening” patterns that Jesus described in their behaviors and inner life.

1~~Their priorities were upside down and inside out.

2~~They avoided the light and had little love of the truth.

3~~Their behavior was hypocritical.

4~~Pretense was a predominant pattern for them in word and deed.

5~~They spread their attitudes and behaviors as they “made disciples” who ended up “twice as bad” as they were.

6~~They focused on exterior appearance but not on their inner being (inside “dead” and “defiled”).

7~~They valued their own traditions over laws given directly from God Himself.

8~~They blocked the flock from Jesus and from the kingdom of God.

Before we give the scriptures that illustrate the above characteristics of Pharisees, we will explain Jesus’ comment on leaven.

So… why, specifically, is this “leaven of the Phariseessuch a concern?

Leaven is something that usually isn’t seen or tasted in the dough; its purpose is a hidden one: simply to make the dough rise. Part of the analogy Jesus used lies in the fact that it is “hidden”. The “unnoticeable” aspects can denote sneakiness and subtle deception. The “rising” can point to an “inflated” sense of arrogance or pride, which tended to characterize the Pharisees.

Here are some scriptures which show disturbing patterns in the Pharisees' behaviors and inner life. Jesus expressed the dismay that he had concerning them, as an instruction to them to change their ways, and a warning to the people to beware of them. 

1- UPSIDE DOWN, INSIDE OUT PRIORITIES

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you… have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! [Mt 23:23,24]

One way to paraphrase this verse is to say that their priorities were upside-down and inside-out. They tended to consider—the more important things as less important, and the less important as more vital. They tended to care a great deal about how things appeared on the outside, but they failed to develop a good inner life.

Because this meant that so much truth and love and real life-giving teaching did not happen, a “masked” life was presented to others…and presented as an example of “religious life” in place of true, God-led living. Misguided priorities were approved and emphasized. Deceit, craftiness and cunning in such a religious culture as the one Jesus faced can subtly become the acceptable order of the day. Life and love and care and humble right living can easily get lost in the shuffle, and “righteousness” and “holiness” become very confused and confusing concepts.

We may wonder how things could have gotten so convoluted and even reverse of what is holy and right. There are many, many answers to that. One verse from James may shed some light.

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition [rivalry/contention AMPC] exist, there is disorder [strife, disharmony] and every evil [vile. foul, morally degrading] thing [practice].” [James 3:16]

This verse speaks volumes. The more we read it and meditate on it, the more applications in life, and understanding of life's problems and answers may come to us in the process. 

2-AVOIDED THE LIGHT OF TRUTH AND PREFER DARKNESS

“Jesus… [said], ‘I am the Light of the World. … he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’ So the Pharisees said, ‘…[Y]our testimony cannot be verified.’ Jesus answered “…You judge by appearances… You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father also.” [Jn 8:12-19]

Some prefer darkness, and avoid the light and the truth

“And this is the verdict …[on] whoever does not believe… that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” [Jn 3:19k, 18, 19-21]

They failed to love Jesus, the Father, the “word” and the truth He spoke…

“ ‘But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, “…We … have one Father: God.”

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” [Jn 8:40-45]

So they killed Him…

“I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has no power over Me… but … I do just as the Father has commanded Me.” [Jn 14:30]

3-HYPOCRITICAL

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. [Mt 23:13]

From previous descriptions of the Pharisees, it is not difficult to recognize their hypocritical behavior (behavior that contradicts what is said or professed or believed), or to understand how this could disturb Jesus. The motives and attitudes and priorities that go along with such deeds and behaviors can be very contagious—as we mentioned earlier. 

"Self-righteousness" very accurately describes the perspective and framework of their thought and heart patterns. That, effectively, shuts out the Savior's help--the One Who really IS our "righteousness". Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to look to Him: He paid full and heavy price to become our "Door" to salvation. (A careful and prayerful reading--even with a direct call on Holy Spirit's wisdom--of Romans 9:30--10:4 and then Romans 4:4-5 may help greatly.) Remember Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." [Jn 13:34-35]

Human nature [when being judged, by self or others or by a distorted view of God] prefers cut and dry, measurable things to judge… rather than the vague, hidden, immeasurable goodness found in “love”. Such hypocritical behavior—as it becomes a more general, continual and widespread practice—begins to become a hidden fabric of life—of relating, of choosing, and of evaluating what to do and not do, think and not think, be and not be. And it spreads…

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocritesdo in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.” [Mt 6:2]

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.” [Mt 6:5]

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.” [Mt 6:16]

"You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" [Luke 12:56]

4-PRETENSE

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” [Mt 23:14]

5-PHARISEES MAKE DISCIPLES TWICE AS BAD AS THEY WERE

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” [Mt 23:15]

6-GOOD APPEARANCE OUTSIDE BUT DEAD AND DEFILED INSIDE

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” [Mt 23:25-28]

7-PREFERRED THEIR OWN TRADITIONS OVER GOD AND HIS LAW

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’” [Mt 15:1-3]

They preferred their own traditions over what God had revealed to them in the Bible. We call the Bible “scripture” and “God’s word”. It helps to recall that satan’s very first attack that we hear of on this earth was aimed at Eve. His cleverly crafted words cast doubt on what God had said to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis chapter 3, satan-the-snake said to Eve, “Did God really say….?

"You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” [Mt 15:6b-11]

8-THEY BLOCK THE FLOCK FROM JESUS AND THE KINGDOM

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. [Mt 23:13]

This was a double grief for Jesus. Not only did the Scribes and Pharisees refuse to enter the kingdom, themselves (which grieved Jesus and the Father greatly because They loved them so much), but they stood in the way of the Jewish people finding new life in Him. Jesus told them to do as they say, but not as they do. [Mt 23:2]

"They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry], but they will not lift a finger to move (help)  them." [Mt 23:4]

Instead, Jesus said and did the opposite: "For my yoke is easy and my burden light."  [Mt 11:30]

BLIND LEADING THE BLIND

Jesus recognized that the Pharisees were deaf to much of what He taught, and blind to much of the truth that He spoke.

Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?”

(Jesus had been speaking to them about what defiles a person… See above.)

But He answered and said, ‘…They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” [Mt 15: 12-14]


WHAT ABOUT US?

The Pharisees’ ways of thinking and acting exist in the world today—in many areas of life, both in a secular sense** (see footnote) and in a religious sense. When we forget that the Bible (and Jesus) tell us to be of His kingdom in this world… but not be of the world and its ways, we can get side-tracked. It is easy to absorb their goals, mindsets and heart choices that lead to a life of respectable and honorable appearances on the outside… but with an interior life that is as corrupt as a crypt—as Jesus told us. “Man looks on the outside, but God sees the heart.”

As our cultures get more developed and sophisticated, we learn ways of social, cultural and religious “propriety” and rituals. We can create, for instance, “politically correct language” that may or may not express what is in the speaker’s heart—but we know what looks and sounds acceptable. Love and respect in the kingdom of heaven goes deeper.

In all areas of life, as we seek God’s kingdom, we are well advised to do as Jesus warned: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees”. Instead, we can seek and keep on seeking for Him to help form us in healthy and loving ways—even if that means we need His grace and Holy Spirit power every step of the way.

And finally, we can look again at just how much God helped St. Paul in his amazing change (“FROM PHARISEE TO FOLLOWER”) that we celebrate today (and published yesterday). The love and mercy of Jesus Whom he encountered on the road to Damascus surrounds each of us even now. The Holy Spirit is continually available to us along the way with every gift and grace God has to offer. And many of us are much blessed to have His scriptures readily available to us so we can come to know Him better, receive His love and learn His ways and truth as we receive the life He came to bring.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” [Hebr 4:12]

May Your kingdom come, O God… “Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.”

FOOTNOTES:

Scriptures are taken from the NAB, NASB or the NABRE translations of the Bible, unless otherwise noted. Some synonyms for words or parts of other translations are placed in brackets to enhance understanding.

**We find similar patterns to Pharisaical behaviors in the secular realm. Some people can become masters of deception by fitting so well into a culture’s social patterns and expectations and appearances that any evil or wrongdoing in them goes largely undetected. Two such examples come to mind.

The life of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (the youngest person to make the FBI’s s"Ten  Most Wanted” list) was featured in the 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can”. Before he was even 18, he convincingly took jobs as a doctor, a lawyer and a co-pilot for a major airline.

Another master of deception was a well-known serial killer (of more than 30 females) named Ted Bundy, who was executed in 1989 in Florida. He could be likeable and approachable, and he positioned himself well, at times, in political circles and even a law enforcement task group. He was intelligent, studied well, good looking, had an over-inflated ego, and knew how to avoid detection—partly by moving from state to state. 


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