When I was a child in Sunday school, whenever we would focus on a story about Jesus, I would always view the Pharisees as these cartoonish villains; the clear bad guys of this story, always out to get Jesus, maybe with a villainous sneer on their lips as they did it.
And I’d think, “Man, those Pharisees really didn’t get it, did they? The Son of God was standing right in front of them, and instead of following Him, they got Him killed! If I had been alive then, I wouldn’t have done that."
Now that I’ve grown, I’ve realized that it’s so much more complex than that. The Pharisees and Sadducees were trying to serve God, they knew their scripture, and they truly believed they were going about things the right way.
Honestly, that scares me, because the more passages I read where Jesus is calling out the Pharisees, the more I feel like they could be written directly to me.
As I read through Jesus’ seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 this week, one section of the passage particularly struck me:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
“These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others…”
Jesus doesn’t tell them, “Hey, that whole worshipping God through sacrifices thing? That’s not actually that important…” Or, “Really, you could just get away with the social justice stuff and you’ll be fine…”
No. He says, “Do BOTH.”
He says, “I know your personal purity is important to you. It’s important to me too. But so is justice. So is mercy. So is faithfulness. So is living out your faith and loving the people around you."
Today, when I look at my relationship with God—or even at the church—I see a faith full of tensions: I see a church that struggles to find the balance between speaking the truth and doing it in love.I see believers struggling between a desire for personal purity, and a desire to carry out justice and healing in the world. I see my daily struggle to live in the world, but to not be of the world; to be all things to all people, but to also be set apart from the world around me.
And I see that we seem to always approach these struggles as an either/or battle, when it really should be both/and.
It’s such a hard tension to live in. I feel like I always end up leaning too much one way or the other, catching myself doing that, and then over-correcting too far the other way.
I see believers (including myself) speaking harsh truth to those around them, so I react with a whole lot of love… and a watered down version of the truth.
OR I see the church pouring out love, but neglecting the truth of God’s Word, so I counteract that with a whole lot of truth, but forget to temper it with love…
I don’t really know how to find the balance in that tension. I don’t know how to walk this tightrope well.
But I’m really glad that I know a God who does - Who is pleased with my stumbling attempts to represent Him in this world, Who will give me the ability to be His hands and feet, Who uses me despite my failures, and Who consistently brings me back to passages like this when I start to forget.