The Spirit of the Pharisees in and Among Us: The Ordering of Greater and Lesser Sinners

   

Image by Eddie Moy

We like to stack and sort, ordering things into categories that make sense. We create hierarchies of lesser and greater values of everything—of people, places, jobs, and sin. The guy working at the corner McDonalds shoveling fries into oversized containers downtown in the ghetto uses all he has to get his next fix. But just uptown in the north end of this same city, a middle-aged man living in his middle-class home with his wife, kids, dogs, and stuff uses every penny to get the biggest entertainment center, that boat for the river, and any other material pleasure. He lives his life from one adventure and fun time to the next.

Is there a difference between these two men? There most certainly is according to our sensibilities. On one hand, you have a poor drug addict working in a menial job and the other is a well-off greedy middle class man looking for the party. In every measurement, these people are divided and categorized. Their work, their location, and their vices are all structured and ordered. It is as if we have fashioned a grid which falls over all humanity, dividing us all into little boxes of lesser or worse degrees of depravity and human success.

Such categorizing and fashioning of sin is perhaps one of the greatest blockades in the path of the Church. It is always someone else’s sin that is distasteful. It is always someone else’s vice that is corrupting the body of Christ. The reality is, however, that the “saint” worshipping in the front row each Sunday who boastfully declares that he was raised in the church and has never had sex with anyone or done anything “majorly wrong” is as much a sin-filled wretch as the former gang member who slides into the back row, to ashamed by his addictions and sins to boldly enter into this community. Is there a difference between these men? Every rational bone in us wants to categorize and compare these men’s vices with one-another’s. But we do so incorrectly. These men are the same. They are both equally and totally sinful.

In fact, if one were to categorize these men, the shamed and meek man in the back is far more righteous. Nothing divides these men in sin—both are absolutely corrupt. It is the consciousness of the weight of each’s sin which sets them apart. These are no new developments. Christ spoke to a religious people who thought they had all their stuff together. They weren’t like the tax collectors, the most unclean, vile, and traitorous people.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”— Luke 18:9-14

Don’t lie to yourself. Both you and I have a lot more in common with the Pharisee than with the tax collector in this story. We are far more prideful than humble. We see our sin far less an issue than that slut over in the corner, that former gang member in the back, or that struggling homosexual in the fifth row.

Every prideful thought, every inappropriate sexual urge, and every greedy thought of wanting more stuff weighs us down. Our sin is written on every inch of our flesh, we just avoid looking deep into the mirror. In a very real sense, the art of self-examination and probing for sin within our souls is lost. Instead, we like to explore other’s sins and point them out to their face or, what is far more likely, behind their back to other arrogant and prideful Pharisees.

This ordering, structuring, and creating of hierarchies also destroys what God had done in and through his children through the blood of Jesus Christ. We are all saints. We are all made new. We are all one, regardless of what our nature and identity was before.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”— Galatians 3:26-29

We now stand united, one in body and in purity.

No sinner is worse than another before the blood covers them. No saint is more righteous or less sinful than another after all sin is conquered by the blood.

Such hierarchies are sinful themselves. They are the hight of pride and arrogance. Often, this mentality cripples the work of Jesus Christ within a community because Christians become less interested in loving and touching the lost and hurting and become more interested in hanging-out with the “already righteous.”

Such arrogance and self-righteousness is a modern Pharisaic sin. I fear that our local churches are filled with more Pharisees than those who feel the weight of their sin, it’s removal, and the great desire to tell all others about the mighty work of Christ’s sacrifice.

In a season in which reflecting on the blood and the cross is now no longer trendy, minds now turning toward spring, swim-suits, and the summer season rather than Lent and Easter, it is ever important that we take our sinful selves now forgiven into the streets and touch and love those whose sin, no matter how humanly “grievous”, is no different that our own.

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  • April

    Beautiful.

    I fear very much the same as you do. Pharisaic characters are infiltrating the church and it is a fast spreading disease amongst “God’s people.” I’m learning that while it is our duty and joy to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength” first and foremost, we must also “love our neighbor” and help to bear the burdens of one another– even those Pharisees.

  • Great article!

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