Matthew 23 takes us into the heart of Holy Week and in the center of the conflict is the Pharisee. The stunning words of Matthew 23:23 sum up the mercy issues.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and 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. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
We have talked on these pages before about Pharisaism and the modern examples we have even in our churches. Read the blogs of some in the church and you hear and read the vestiges of a modern Pharisee. It is a great system. You have God on your side so you are always right and you know that others are wrong by a simple measure – if they disagree with you! I read a blog not to long ago where the author actually said the best way to know if the people that are arguing with you are wrong, is if they call you a “pharisee”. These modern pharisee’s are very much into justification by faith and the “sola’s” of the Reformation. They talk a lot about grace and the fact that we can do nothing to merit salvation and yet there is behind their words a kind of “work righteousness” that rears up in the language of liturgy and worship. There is a subtext to the great Gospel call – Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (but you better do what we say)! There is a kind of formula to salvation for them which of course they will deny, but here it is – FAITH, (trust in justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ ) + WORKS (do what the Pastor says, don’t sing praise songs, give your offerings, do what the Pastor says, never ask questions, don’t read the Bible without Pastoral imput, move the baptismal font, change the constitution, and did I mention? – do what the Pastor says, = SALVATION. If you think I am going over board here look at every conflicted congregation that you know or ask a few questions about every conflicted Pastor. Ask those that have been “excommunicated” why they were and then read my formula and tell me I am wrong. The most exuberant proclamation of the free grace of God outside the Bible is the Augsburg Confession and yet the word “confessional” is being given a black eye by some of these folks.
In the midst of Holy Week we realize that Jesus conflict with the Pharisees is huge. As Franzmann says in “Follow Me”, “It is the embodiment of a religious ethical objection to God’s act in Christ. Pharisaism is the incarnation of the offense taken by man as ethical man, at an absolutely free and sovereign act of love on God’s part. Man would fit even God’s grace into a pattern of requital and recompense which man can calculate and predict. The idea of a love which is absolutely limitless and incalculable indicts man and his self-seeking calculating human meanness and destroys the last vestiges of his autonomy. If God’s grace is absolute man’s last defenses as ethical man are down; he is at God’s mercy. And man would rather, as the example of the Pharisee tragically shows, not be at God’s mercy, at least not absolutely. He wants to hold onto some fragment of himelf.”