There is a tv series called Good Omens. It was adapted from the book of the same title which was written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. There is a scene that takes place at Jesus’ crucifixion. One character asks the other, “What was it he (Jesus) said that got everyone so upset?” The other character replies, “Be kind to each other.” Now, Jesus’ teaching had more to it, but that was certainly a key principle. I believe that Jesus’ message can be broken down into three parts: he is the savior, love God, and love others. Those ideas caused some people to hate Jesus— particularly a group known as the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the most dominant group in Israel at the time. They were in charge of the religious and social aspects of the Jewish people. They had unrivaled power— even though they were under the thumb of Rome. The Pharisees loved their power and made sure to keep the people in order. They did this by beating people down with God’s word and making following God all about following the rules. They used scripture to oppress people rather than lift them up. The ironic thing is that they repeatedly broke God’s law to get what they wanted. Jesus didn’t much care for this and would regularly call them out for their nonsense.
There is one particular event that I have been thinking about, and it takes place in Matthew 23. In this chapter of the Bible, Jesus pronounces seven ‘woes’ on the corrupt group of men. They can all be summed up (and oversimplified) by calling the Pharisees hypocrites, which Jesus does several times. He charges them with being all pretense and no substance. They are far more concerned with looking good on the outside rather than who they are on the inside. This can be seen in verse 27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They looked good on the surface, but their hearts were not following God.
I don’t think God much cares about what you look like on the outside. I don’t think that he ever asks of us to put on airs and to carry ourselves around as though we are better than anyone else. In fact, this is what he had to say in 1 Samuel 16:7, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” God’s concern is only for those pillars of Jesus’ message: We believe that Jesus is the savior, we love God, and we love people. Everything else is ancillary at best or frivolous at worst. We need to keep that main thing the main thing.
The Pharisees were masters of getting caught up in the nuance of scripture but missing the meaning. We can easily become guilty of doing the same thing. We can get so caught up in wanting people to live good, holy lives that we forget to love them. We have never been assigned the task of lawgiver, but we have been commanded to offer grace to all. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. We shouldn’t get too wrapped up in if we look good on the outside and neglect our own hearts. On top of that, we should never use God’s word to beat people down. That was the actions of those who proclaimed themselves to be enemies of Christ. Instead, we should use scripture to build people up and point them to the cross. We all have to choose whom to imitate, Christ or those who hated him.