We find in Matthew 12 that Jesus hasn’t slowed down. In fact, all the surrounding naysayers, the Pharisees, are turning the criticism up. They were obviously feeling threatened. What I find most interesting though in these 50 verses is how familiar it all sounds. Just like then, the Pharisee in many of us now is also killing the mission and effectiveness of the church too.
Not uncommon in today’s age is to view a Pharisee as bad, yet the Pharisees were, to some extent, well-meaning people. They studied the law and knew it as well as anyone. Some were sincerely seeking God. After all, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both Pharisees, arranged for Jesus’ burial. They were sympathetic to Christ and, from what I can tell, ultimately ended up following him. The mission of the early church was radically advanced by a converted Pharisee – Paul. The irony is the people who declared to love God the MOST ultimately killed his offspring when he showed up to heal and teach the nation.
Rightfully, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their pride, lack of compassion and hypocrisy. Observe some of their exchanges in this one chapter alone and you might find it leaving a bad taste in your mouth, too. They were always trying to trip him up and I can’t recall one time where he was praised for his tireless work. In verse 34 Jesus compares the Pharisees to a cluster of snakes and remarks “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How all too often do I find myself under pressure or stressful situations looking to my own self-justification and self-importance, just like the Pharisees. Denying God is exactly what I do when my attitude justifies me more than reflecting the heart and love of Christ.
The religious leaders of the time were obsessed by their rules and detailed interpretations of the Old Testament law but they had largely ignored the key points of it – justice, mercy and faith. Oh that we learn this lesson in our congregations today opening wide the doors to welcome in the broken, bruised and hurting. Jesus is interested with reality. It is easy to pretend that everything is okay and that we have everything together. If we want to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t that is up to us, but we shouldn’t expect other people to live up to the standards that we are pretending to live by.
The gig is up for me. I won’t do it anymore. My heart is full and declaring just like Paul that “but for the grace of God go I.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) I am imperfect and Jesus is restoring me everyday. Use me, Lord, as you will to build your church.