Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Christianity has a past. Belief was forced upon freshly caught African slaves and conversion was forced upon Native Americans. Even before that, Christianity and State persecuted thousands of people in a back-and-forth fight for control between Protestants and Catholics. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition show us that our spiritual ancestors were the sort of people you did not want as an enemy. We also honor our Christian dead. Johnathan Edwards has a massive monument. George Whitefield has a marble cenotaph. This is Charles Spurgeon’s humble tomb. Because of such disagreement with the denominations, had we been alive in their time, we would have done what they did. We would have thrown Johnathan Edwards out of the church doors. We would have taken sides on major issues as they would have. In many ways we are doing what they had done, just in ways that are fit for our place and time.
Our spiritual ancestors started us on the path to becoming Pharisees a long time ago. Perhaps they didn’t want to be too different from other religions in the region for fear that they wouldn’t be accepted. Perhaps they wanted to show that their religion had the answers for everything. The origin of how, why, and when Christians turned into Pharisees is lost on us. The results are not – they are the reality of what Christianity is here and now.
Too many are doctrinally correct, but devotionally challenged. Too many are righteous but not gracious. Too many are all too ready to throw people under the bus than to give people a hand up. We lack what the Pharisees did not have. But we do have Jesus who has it and he inspired Paul to write these words about it in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is what sets the two of them apart. Love is what lead Jesus to heal people on a Sabbath. Love is what lead Jesus to let his disciples break the Pharisees’ traditions. Love is what has been extended to us all and what are expected to extend to everyone without exception. Love is the greatest commandment:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8