Monday, October 4, 2010

Putting ourselves in the Pharisee's shoes

I would like you to read the following paragraph, and then read the one after it with just a few words changed. (Don't worry...this post isn't political! Just an example to prove my point.)

The American economic system was established in such a way that Americans who are able to work are rewarded with money to spend as they will. But there are Americans who--despite their best efforts--are unable to work. Therefore, the government provides a system of welfare to allow them to receive the money to live in spite of their mistakes or personal issues which prevent work. While such a system is necessary, some Americans of course are resentful that their fellow citizens receive the same money that they (who work much harder) receive. But at least that is taking care of their own brothers and sisters. This latest thing - the allowing of illegal aliens to get the same benefits! - is intolerable. What do these people have to do with America? How can they - who cannot even speak English, much less have any connection with our culture - be given the same financial benefits as those who are citizens (for whom welfare was originally intended)? They do not even pay taxes, and we are to allow them to receive money to sit at home? Impossible! It is unjust, plain and simple. This illegal-alien-welfare cannot stand.


Some of you probably disagree strongly with that statement. Some probably agreed with it completely. Regardless, you can all identify with it, as the debate is frequently had every day on television and radio around our country.

Now let us read the exact same paragraph, with just a few words changed.

The Jewish Law was established in such a way that the Jews who are able to keep God's commandments are rewarded with reception of God's favor. But there are Jews who--despite their best efforts--are unable to keep the laws. Therefore, God provides a system of sacrifices to allow them to receive God's grace in spite of their mistakes or personal issues. While such a system is necessary, some Pharisees of course are resentful that their fellow citizens receive the same grace that they (who work much harder at the Law) receive. But at least that is taking care of their own brothers and sisters. This latest thing - the allowing of Gentiles to get the same benefits! - is intolerable. What do these people have to do with Judaism? How can they - who cannot even speak Hebrew, much less have any connection with God's people - be given the same grace and forgiveness as those who are God's Chosen People (for whom the Law was originally intended)? They do not even sacrifice, and we are to allow them to receive God's grace? Impossible! It is unjust, plain and simple. This Christianity cannot stand.


So now, of course, my point is obvious. I am not here to discuss welfare or immigration. (Frankly, I am hard-pressed to consider how the government spends my tax money as all that important, when compared to matters of people or the spirit.) No, but I think that the way conservatives feel about illegal aliens receiving welfare benefits is a perfect example of how Pharisees and other observant Jews in the first century must have felt about Gentile Christians.

So let me ask a few relevant questions:
* Do you, as a Gentile Christian, have the respect for Jews and Jewish culture that you would want illegal aliens to have for Americans and American culture?
* Do you, as a Gentile Christian, feel the appreciation that you are receiving that which you did not earn?
* Do you, as a Gentile Christian, understand that you are an "outsider" adopted into God's family?
* Do you, as a Gentile Christian, now have a better understanding of how first century Jews must have felt? And, therefore, why the early church had such a great debate about the inclusion of Gentiles?
* Do you now understand that the Pharisees were not evil men, but had a logical complaint against Jesus' preaching, that it seemed unjust to them?

Hopefully this little example can aid you in better grasping the mindset of the Pharisees, and therefore a more clear view of the context of the Gospels and letters of Paul.

No comments:

Post a Comment