There is a distinct brand of Christianity in this country today. It is not all of the Christianity in this country but it is a big chunk and it is often the most well-known among the general population. And if you know your Bibles, you will recognize this Christianity, because it appears there. It is the modern-day version of the Pharisees Jesus railed against in the gospels.
Before we slam Pharisees, whether from the Biblical era or the modern day manifestations, let’s stop for a minute and say some good things. These were the folks back in the day who knew the religious law, and not only knew it but loved it and lived it. In every way, you would consider them to be the well-respected, God-fearing, society-leavening segment of the population. If you wanted a moral, healthy, and religiously robust community, you wanted there to be lots of Pharisees in it.
And yet, in no uncertain terms Jesus has some very harsh words for the Pharisees. And, to amp up the dissonance even more, He spends a lot of His time with the social outcasts and the morally repugnant, and with a small and motley crew of peasant followers who He spends a lot of time teaching in the ways of hanging out with and serving those social outcasts and morally repugnant.
If you accept that Jesus is God incarnate, then the more dissonant thing to take in is not His choice of who to rail at and who to embrace, but what modern-day Christianity has morphed into. Although, in a sense, nothing has changed since Jesus walked the earth. There are modern-day Pharisees who have a veneer of doing and being good but who need a sharp rebuking, and there are modern-day social outcasts and morally repugnant who need to be touched and embraced and elevated and instructed.
We are obviously in a divisive and unprecedented presidential election season, and the Republican candidate gets a lot of press for his controversial beliefs and incendiary statements, and for the bigoted and narrow-minded beliefs of his supporters that his words and actions are emboldening. And, to be sure, many of those supporters are among those who can be described as modern-day Pharisees, among other epithets. And yet, as a counterbalance, I must also note that many of his supporters would be counted among the groups Jesus loved and embraced and publicly connected with, rather than prominently smearing or dismissing.
Whatever your political or religious persuasion, please know that Jesus left no doubt as to who warranted sharper words of rebuke and who was worth spending meaningful time with. May that give us pause as we consider how our society is sorted, and how we behave ourselves in the choices we make about the words we use and the people we associate with.
(PS This morning's Bible reading, Luke 7:36-50, called to mind a sermon I gave five years ago on that passage, which explored some of the same themes as this morning's post. You can find a transcript of that sermon here.)