Monday, April 7, 2014

Sympathy for the Pharisee

I once told my mom she might go to jail for using her emergency flashers without a reason. In our Volkswagen Bus, hazard light knob was so tempting that I pulled it out once while she was driving down our back alleyway. My mom pushed it back in and told me that she could get a ticket for misusing them. I had no idea that was illegal and I realized that she had gotten a speeding ticket some time back. I thought perhaps the law was draconian enough that any second violation of the law would not result in a ticket, but incarceration. So, jail for having the hazard lights on.
     Back then I had a strict sense of right and wrong. You were not supposed to do wrong, or bad things would be done to you and you deserved it. So one day I was looking at our bathroom scale and asked my dad what the words: NOT LEGAL FOR TRADE meant. My dad explained it meant that the scale was only for people. He did not tell me it meant the scale wasn’t intended to weigh items for sale. But I knew what the word “legal” meant; it meant the law. So months later when my aunt was getting ready for an airplane flight and she put her suitcases on her bathroom scale, I nearly lost my mind. My aunt was breaking the law, how could she do that? All the way to the airport I expected to be pulled over by a scowling policeman to whom I would try to explain that I knew better.
     Growing up like that made me always root for the good guy. I never wanted to be the robber in cops and robbers and I did not particularly like to break the rules, ever. One might think this made me the kind of student teachers like. But I was judgmental. I could not abide others breaking the rules, so I was a tattletale.
     Why couldn’t everyone just follow the rules and be nice to each other? I didn’t get it. There’s a word for people like I was. Reluctant to extend grace, stick fast to the rules, even if it meant sending their own mother to jail for driving down an alley with hazard lights on. You could call us Pharisees.
     I understand how those religious leaders and teachers of the law might have felt. Their identity was fixed into the laws they followed so well. That feeling of security that you’re right and everyone else is wrong helps one sleep at night. No wonder they got so terribly upset when that man from a backwards town came along. People liked him even though he broke the rules. And he seemed to think that all those rules that made them feel so good and secure were a hindrance. Look what he did on the Sabbath, right in front of them sometimes. But worst of all, that right feeling they loved, the identity they found in their rules, that might have begin to feel weak against everything this man did and said.
     So would they give up the old ways, which it turned out were nothing more than a perversion of the original plan? And would they adapt to the new ways, which were in fact, the simple plan God had all along? Sadly for them, they tried to get rid of the usurper to their ways. The source of their discomfort had to go. And three days after they thought they had succeeded, not only had their plans been thwarted, but sin and death had been conquered too.
If I have been living back then, I might have been a nice, law-abiding guy who followed the rules and thought his place was secure. I might have prayed in the temple, thanking God I wasn’t like those others, those luggage-weighing sinners. I don’t know if I would have felt the need for forgiveness or grace. I could have been a Pharisee.   
     Thank God my sin hurt me enough that I recognized my need for Him. Thank God I am broken enough now to know I am right there with every other sinner.
     There are still times where I feel so very comfortable in my life of regulation and control. Which means when the inevitable upset comes along, I become pretty bent out of shape. And I stay that way until I let go of my intense desire for order and replace it with submission to God. Most of the time I can’t do that on my own and I have to coast to the side of the road with my hazard lights flashing. Against such thing there is no law.

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