There is a Scripture that has been nagging me. As I read this morning, it seemed like it was highlighted with neon ink. I am pretty sure God wanted me to take notice. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and says to them “And so your tradition empties the commandment of God of all its meaning.” Mt 15:6 jbp. What they did was take God’s desire that one’s parents must be honored and cared for and used it instead as an opportunity to extort funds for their religion. It is no wonder Jesus saves His most scathing denunciations for these horrific people who presume to overreach God Himself for their own personal gain. In the very next chapter Jesus warns His obtuse disciples to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. “Then they grasped (after mistaking this for a reprimand of not bringing bread for the journey) that He had not told them to beware of yeast in the ordinary sense but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

My first impulse was to take comfort in the thought that in our enlightened day of grace in the Christian world we can safely look down on and condemn such religious treachery from our lofty righteous perch. Upon further introspection, however, I was horrified to discover that like David seeing his sin when cleverly confronted by the prophet, I too must say “I am that man”. Even if I am not in a position to collect money in the name of God, there is temptation to demand agreement, doctrinal purity or respect from others around me who perhaps are not as “enlightened” or “committed” or “whatever”.  It may be subtle – so subtle that the pride which is engendered in my heart seems justified, but it is a pervasive corruption of soul. After all, I have the correct doctrine/opinion/cultural correctness/denomination/preferences/personality – fill in the blank! Interesting how the Word of God read so many years after it was spoken/written has the ability to affect a heart even when the story seems so irrelevant to a believer immersed in a culture of grace and other-carefulness. Superiority delusion is still rolling around in my soul – I am sure that the yeast of the Pharisees is simmering somewhere in my being, just waiting for the right conditions to infiltrate my spirit and reveal a harsh condemning attitude (again, despite repeated repentance), self-righteously asserting that I am doing God a service. It wasn’t just those twelve men in a boat that Jesus was warning to “beware” – I cannot dismiss that admonition so glibly. Jesus’ teaching came into their lives from a counter-culture kingdom. They struggled to understand just what exactly He was saying this or that. They questioned what His words meant, constantly requested explanation, blundered around trying to be all that He wanted them to be as His disciples. And missing it! Sound familiar??

I do not want to face Jesus some day and realize that my tradition/ opinion/ doctrine/ subservience to culture/ social mindset/cause/spiritual insensitivity or whatever drained the commandment of God to me of all its true meaning. The proud heart has all kinds of ways to subtly justify itself to itself. I do not want to stand before Him saying “But Lord! I did this, that , and the other thing for You in my life!” What terrifying words “Depart from Me, I never knew you”!  I want the Lord to know me, to search me, to shred my heart of all whispers of self-serving religiosity. Of smug spiritual condescension. Of limitation on God’s word to others. This aspiration cannot be accomplished without the pain of revelation, repentance, and restructure – allowing the living Sword to pierce the motives, lay bare the intentions (however ugly beneath the surface), and circumcise the fleshly heart to remove subtle self-service. Only He can replace the natural with the spiritual. My job is to cooperate! The Spirit just waits for the invitation to be involved! I have a choice.

“Jesus gave this illustration to certain people who were confident of their own goodness and looked down on others: Two men went to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee, the other was a tax collector (despised by all).” The Pharisee stood and extolled his virtues before God.  Jesus comments: “You are the people who advertise your goodness before men (is this cultural correctness perhaps??), but God knows your hearts. Remember, there are things men consider perfectly splendid which are detestable in the sight of God!” Jesus – Lk 16:15jbp.

“But the (despised) tax collector stood in a distant corner, scarcely daring to look up to Heaven, and with a gesture of despair, said, ‘God, have mercy on a sinner like me.’ I assure you that he was the man who went home justified in God’s sight… For everyone who sets himself up as a somebody will become a nobody, and the man who makes himself nobody will become somebody.” Jesus Lk 18:13-14jbp

If the smug shoe fits … repentance is a gift!