Thursday, October 08, 2009

Regarding the Pharisees

Have you ever used the word Pharisee as a term of derision? A Pharisee is a legalist and also a hypocrite. Isn't that what the gospels say?

I'm reading a book of sermons by the early Karl Barth -- quite interesting -- and in a sermon preached in February 1919, to the people of Safenwil, Switzerland, he offers a different take.

If we want to have a clear picture of the Savior, we must make the effort to understand who the Pharisees were, for in the New Testament they form the background of the picture of Jesus. We cannot regard the Pharisees highly enough, for their way was, in human terms, the best way that anyone can take. (Karl Barth and William H. Willimon, The Early Preaching of Karl Barth, WJK, 2009, p. 99).
Jesus, Barth notes, even equates them with John the Baptist.

But:

The Pharisees stood as high on the scale of good, religious people as we can possibly imagine, and it is no dishonor at all for us to be Pharisees. They were indeed enemies of the Savior, but one can be an enemy of the Savior and in all seriousness still be a person that others should highly respect. If that is not clear to us, we will never understand who Jesus Christ is and what he has to say and give to us. We always think we have to make it very clear that we too are good religious people. (p. 99).

Barth goes on to point out that the Pharisees believed that Jesus was impious. He didn't fast and he hung out with bad company. So, the question is not whether the Pharisees were legalists, but whether we can trust in our own devices. Can we trust in our own religiosity to make a difference? Are we not all Pharisees?

1 comment:

Mark Hollingsworth said...

Great post. I agree with you and Barth. The "goodness" of many keep them from Christ. Some are just too good to be saved...they don't think they need Him.
Thanks for sharing.
Blessings,
Mark