Dealing with pharisees
Are there people who hurt you while thinking they do God’s will?
Do you have “pharisees” in your life? Sure you do! Pharisees are people who are so sure they are doing everything right spiritually that they fail to notice when their beliefs are taking them in the wrong direction. We all have some phariseeism in us. Humility is the cure — making an honest assessment of how we have strayed in order to come back to God.
In Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites figured out that their straying started when they complained. Complaints always come from pride. Pride tells us that we SHOULD complain because we know (as if we are God) that things SHOULD be going better. Pride tells us that suffering is proof that we have a right to complain. Pride tells us that when we suffer, either God has fallen asleep, or He has turned His back on us, or He has forgotten about us, or He doesn’t care about us. Pride dismisses the fact that God is working a plan we cannot yet understand, a plan that will definitely benefit us as well as everyone else involved, a plan to bring us into the Promised Land, which we would not reach unless we do a lot of growing first. Growth is a product of suffering.
The Israelites were saved from their pride when God provided healing through a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of the Messiah — the bronze serpent mounted on a pole. The serpent represented their sins, just as Jesus would one day accept all the world’s sins upon Himself and be “mounted” on the cross and raised up for all to see.
During the time that Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees were so sure they had the right spiritual understanding of everything that their pride prevented them from recognizing Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.
Do you know people who are so sure they are hearing God correctly that they have become offensive? How do you handle them? Do you complain about them?
Are WE ever so sure about OUR beliefs that we complain when others don’t agree with us? Even when we do have a good grasp of the truth, if we want to imitate Jesus, if we want to live in humility, we do not complain when we suffer from the disbelief of others. Complaining about people is condemning them. Complaining about a situation is condemning the God who allowed the situation to occur.
Look at how Jesus handles the Pharisees in John 8:21-30. He longs for them to hear and accept the truth, plus by now He knows that these are the people who will put Him through the suffering of crucifixion. When I am persecuted by people I care about and these people are rejecting some spiritual truth I know they need, my first reaction is to complain. God has directed me to overcome this. He has told me that if I must complain about someone, to take my complaints directly to Him rather than increase my sin by complaining to my friends and dragging them into the fray. And you know what happens when I do that? My complaints dissolve in His mercy! When I complain to a friend, I can go on and on over the injustice of it all. But when I complain to God, I let go of my complaints and in a couple of minutes (or less!) I’m feeling peace instead of frustration.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus has a moment when He chooses between complaining and mercy. He notes that in His position as a powerful and authoritative teacher, he could share His complaints about the Pharisees with the whole world. He says, “I could say much about you in condemnation, but no, I only tell the world what I have heard from him [the Father].” In other words, even though there is a lot He could complain about, He chooses to let go of what’s negative and spend His time only in the positive work of the ministry given to Him by the Father. God is love, and the heart of the Lord is mercy.
Let us sacrifice our complaints. Let us nail them to the cross. Let us take a vow of silence rather than allow them to escape from our lips. And if we must vent, let our complaints go only to God. It’s amazing how fast the anger withers away once I start heating God’s ear with my complaints. He resurrects us into a new life of peace and joy, even when things go wrong!
© 2002 by Terry A. Modica