Saturday, October 15, 2016

Modern Day Pharisees

We read the Holy Scriptures and too often think about the Pharisees as if they no longer exist, but I encounter them every day. I’m not speaking about Jewish Pharisees, but Orthodox Pharisees. Allow me to explain...
Consider today’s Gospel Reading... Gospel Reading: Luke 6:1-10 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath?" And Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?" And he said to them, "The Son of man is lord of the sabbath." On another sabbath, when he entered the synagogue and taught, a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" And he looked around on them all, and said to him, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored.
The Orthodox Christian way of life, much like the ancient Jewish way of life, is enriched by a litany of “do’s” and “don’ts” that is meant to shape our life to align with a Godly life rather than an earthly life. The life of prayer rules, fasting rules, lectionaries, service schedules, almsgiving, and the like can be a bit taunting to the outsider. Making things worse, Orthodox Pharisees, continue to insist on obeying these “rules” but continue to display a lack of understanding why the Orthodox Christian way of life is so important.

The same thing was the case in today’s Gospel lesson. The Pharisees didn’t understand WHY the law was created in the first place. It wasn’t merely to teach the Jews to refuse to work on Saturday, but that we as humans needed the inspiration to spend time in prayer and rest. Otherwise we have a tendency to keep working until we fall over from exhaustion. The Pharisees focuses on doing the Law but never took the time to understand WHY.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we fast. We learn that life isn’t about pleasing our own selfish desires. We learn that we can go without for a period to allow for prayer and rest. We learn to keep food in its proper place – nutrition for the human body.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we schedule our daily life around times for prayer. We learn that taking time for our relationship with God is crucial to understanding our time on earth. We learn that if we don’t schedule prayer, we are likely to just keep right on working and forget to spend some time talking to God.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we read the Holy Scriptures every day, but we more likely would read the parts we like over and over again and miss the full experience of the Holy Scriptures. The lectionary guides our reading throughout the year to align to certain seasons and holidays helping us put the different pieces together.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we take care of the poor and tithe to the Church. Jesus commanded us to love others and see Him when we see others, and caring for the poor helps us to actually express our love in actions rather than just use the words. Tithing to the Church helps us put God and mission of His Church first in our life. If we wait to see “how much we can afford to give” we will always find other things to claim our attention.

We don’t do these different actions merely to do them, but to gain spiritual benefit from them. Take a moment to call your priest and schedule Holy Confession to confess your sins and discuss these issues. He will help you realize that it isn’t about following the rules; it is about allowing the rules to help you live a new life in Christ.

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