In the spring quarter, I took a Gospels class with a great professor at Fuller, Dr. Thompson. After covering some background information about the Gospels, Dr. Thompson a new and better way of looking at the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.
When most Christians talk about the Pharisees they paint the picture that the Pharisees were against whatever Jesus was for. For example, Jesus clearly has a preferential option for the poor in the Gospels. Consequently, people assume that the Pharisees, along with other first-century Jews, did not have a preferential option for the poor. Thus, the Pharisees really get a bad rap from us when we talk about them. I had never thought about this before I took Dr. Thompson's class, and I was intrigued by her observations.
A few instances in the Gospels blow me away with regard to the Jesus-Pharisee relationship. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus eats with the poor, oppressed, marginalized, tax collectors, and even Pharisees. If you know anything about first century Palestine, then you know that to eat with someone was to acknowledge publicly that you stand in solidarity with that person or that you include these people with whom you are dining as part of your family. Thus, first century Palestinians made sure they did not eat with the wrong types of people. Jesus, however, obliterated the boundaries of this social custom. Thus, when Jesus ate with the Pharisees, he was acknowledging on some level that they were included in God's kingdom.
One passage in Matthew is especially interesting, and I think it has direct implications for our spirituality today. In Matthew 23, Jesus exhorts the crowd and his disciples to follow the Pharisees teachings, but not to follow the Pharisees actions. Jesus does denounce the Pharisees for their actions in this passage, but he supports the Pharisees teachings. Apparently, Jesus agreed with much of the Pharisaical teachings, but he disagreed with how the Pharisees embodied those teachings. As you read Matthew 23, it becomes evident that when the Pharisees were embodying their teachings, they were doing it for their own gain and exaltation. Jesus demands that when following the Pharisees teachings the people must embody these teachings in a life of humility and servant hood. Only through humility and servant hood does true exaltation occur.
What does this say about our spirituality? I recently read Satisfy Your Soul by Bruce Demarest where an argument for a holistic spirituality is given. The author argues that our Christian spirituality needs to become more than noetic or propositional knowledge. Rather, our spirituality must be holistic in the sense that it involves head knowledge, heart knowledge, and praxis. Spirituality is not complete until the head and heart knowledge bleeds over into our practice. I have lived most of my life, especially this past year, with an emphasis on the head knowledge aspect of my faith. This book convicted me in a way that I have not experienced in many years.
Unfortunately, I feel like the discipline and routine that many Christians were raised with and told is necessary in order to be a Christian is on the downfall. In other words, I feel like the spiritual disciplines are seen as unimportant or less important as parts of the Christian life. I know that I do not read the Bible, pray, and practice solitude as much as I should, and I am in seminary of all places. Much of this reticence toward spiritual disciplines may have developed because of the negative view towards the legalistic Pharisees who cared so much about following the Law (Torah) that they neglected to purify their motives for following Torah.
However, I feel like Jesus' relationship towards the Pharisees, especially his exhortation in Matthew 23, shows that the discipline and order of the Pharisees' life was not bad. Consequently, I think a revamping and redefinition of the spiritual disciples is necessary in order for our spirituality to continue to develop and mature.
May our spirituality involve those traditional practices of reading Scripture, prayer, and solitude, but may we not limit our spirituality to our inner life. Our spirituality should bleed into our everyday life where we are living humbly and as servants for one another, even for our enemies and those on the outside of society. May our spirituality not build an external facade for people to gawk at. Rather, may our spirituality reveal itself through genuine, authentic love and service because these are the characteristics of those people who have experienced God and choose to live as participants in God's kingdom. peace