Quotes from the Pharisees: Name-Calling

Do you like good quotes?  I admit that I enjoy insightful sayings from wise people (like Mark Twain describing golf as a waste of a perfectly good walk, although that could be due to my lack of athletic talent), as well as catchy lines from movie characters (“Come with me if you want to live!”).  Not every quotation that is placed on a fancy background speaks to me, but I am content with the understanding that different things speak to different people in different seasons of their lives.

Now, to be fair, we should be careful to take quotes in context.  I was reading a book review recently that reminded readers not to just read one verse of the Bible at a time (meaning that the context of a passage is pretty important), and I think that quotations can be misconstrued, as well.

Over the past few weeks or months, I have been struck by some sayings in the Bible from the group known as the Pharisees.  Unfortunately, a larger study of the context of these statements doesn’t really vindicate the ones who spoke them, although I do want to mention that some Pharisees were open-minded about what Jesus had to say, and the original Pharisaical movement had good intentions (even if portions of it it got off-course by the time of Jesus’ ministry).

Since followers of Jesus are called to live like Him, it stands to reason that we should expect other people to respond to our choices and message in the same way as they did to His teaching.  So, I’d like to look at some of the responses to Jesus’ ministry (and maybe one or two from His apostles’ follow-on ministry in the church), to consider what Christians should expect from others in this world, and how they should respond.

Let’s start with a comment on Jesus’ habit of associating with people who were ,1) unpopular in their culture, 2) outcast in society, and 3) sometimes just plain unrighteous.  Jesus had called Matthew (also known as Levi) to be His disciple, but Matthew was a tax collector (disliked by his own people, and considered to be a sellout).  I suspect that a rabbi doing something like that was practically scandalous, but then Jesus goes to a dinner at Matthew’s house that is attended by all sorts of people who were equally unwelcome in “polite religious society”.

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Luke 5:30 NIV

The New Living Translation here uses the word “scum”, with a footnote: “Greek with tax collectors and sinners?”  The footnote is a more literal translation, but I think that “scum” captures the disdain that the speakers here had for these dinner guests.

If you follow Jesus, living like Him means spending time with those who sin differently from you.  It will mean associating with (and serving) those who society has cast out, judged, and canceled.  You will be accused of being aligned with all sorts of faults (based on the company you keep), and you will be castigated by those who have built their worldview on being right in their own eyes at the expense of others who are different.

However, for those who – like Jesus – go against the grain of society when it tries to separate, polarize, and cast (or “caste”) us into separate groups, you can also expect some “guilt by association”.  You’ll probably be called names, too.  How about “science denier”, “religious freak”, “ignorant fundamentalist”, “homophobe”, or “hypocrite”?

None of these insults – if we consider their actual meanings – should describe a genuine Christian who is working to follow Jesus (although all of us have our failings, even after receiving the gift of salvation).  However, like “scum” or “sinners”, these are just loaded words, meant to insult and attack, rather than to help and heal.

So, what do we do?  Let’s consider what Jesus did: For one thing, He had to have known that eating dinner with these particular lost souls would lead to criticism.  He didn’t call Matthew to be His disciple without knowing Matthew’s profession (after all, Matthew was in his tax collecting booth when he was called).  Knowing the likely social consequences, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, anyway.

Then, Jesus reminded his accusers of a fundamental truth:

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:31‭-‬32 NIV

In my own words, sick, hurting, and lost people need help, and they know it.  We’re all lost without Jesus, and our souls all need the same thing as the powerful, popular, and pretty people (including those who think that they are better than others).  Jesus was determined to rescue souls from the shared death sentence of sinful human beings, and this salvation wasn’t going to be limited to those who thought that they were already “good enough”.

Don’t listen to the name-calling and criticism.  If anything, use this as motivation to redouble your efforts to reach out to those who are on the fringes of society (whether or not it is due to something they have done), and pour yourself out – like Jesus did – in love and service to those who need to find hope, purpose, freedom, and salvation in Jesus Christ.  In addition, be willing to remind your detractors that you are associating with all kinds of people on purpose: your goal is to love everyone as special creations of God, and to help them find the best life that they can experience.  This might be a good time to invite your insulters to consider what they have in common with those who they look down upon, and ask if they might be willing to reach out to those who need help, too.

Ultimately, the name that should fit followers of Jesus the best is “Christ-like”.  Let’s strive to live up to that name today.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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