I'm starting to "get" why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much.
We live in a world of cause and effect. We live in a world where A + B = C. Effort leads to results, talent leads to fame, diligence leads to success, and hard work leads to cash. In this linear life, we enjoy linear processes and predictable outcomes.
From the home to the school to the work force, we're taught the same things: If you want to do well, try hard. If you want to do better, try harder. Take control, plan it out, and put your back into it.
Really, it doesn't take much to get rich, famous, or successful. The ones who hustle, win. The ones who go above and beyond get raises, promotions, and special opportunities. Those who know the ropes and understand the system climb their way to the top of the food chain.
That's how it's always worked out in my life. I've put in the time, and I've gotten results! I've studied, and the grades have proved it. I've practiced, and it's shown in my performance. I've disciplined myself. Organized my time. Planned my schedule. I've fought laziness, and I've battled apathy. I've powered through sleepless nights to prepare for exams and I've logged in extra hours at work for financial security.
For me, A + B has always equaled C.
Until I encountered the Kingdom of Heaven.
And I'm starting to get why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much.
The Pharisees were superior to the commoners, and rightly so! They diligently studied God's word. They spent hours every day reading, thinking, reflecting, memorizing, reciting, teaching, and copying out the Law. They poured all of their effort into obeying the letter of the Law. They saw to it that every ordinance was observed, and that every rule was remembered. They tied the Scriptures to their foreheads. They prayed loudly and eloquently. They practically lived at the Synagogue. They were The men.
And Jesus did nothing but rebuke them.
How backward! How counter-intuitive! Jesus came and scolded the teachers of the Law, but He commended the sinners. He reprimanded the elites, but He praised the lowly. He criticized the ones who knew the Scriptures like the backs of their hands, but He exalted people who had never stepped foot inside the Synagogue!
Jesus humiliated the ones who were devoted to obeying the Law of Moses. The thinkers, leaders, interpreters, teachers, translators, and scribes. The powerful. The respected. The noble. And not only that, but He elevated the rebels. He lifted up the Romans. He raised the Samaritans. The nobodies. The ones who knew nothing of the Law.
He humiliated those who patted themselves on the back for being Spiritual Somebodies. And then He declared that the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to children. He opposed the proud, but He favoured the simpletons. The unintelligent. For the ones who had been plugging in A + B for their entire lives, Jesus brought them back down to earth. He called them utter fools. Hypocrites. A brood of vipers.
How infuriating. How completely unlike our worldly systems! In this world, when we put in the time and energy, we receive advancement. We rise the ranks, and we are rewarded. We get seniority and authority. We get a reason to boast! A reason to be proud! We work hard, and it pays off!
Again. I'm starting to get why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much.
This year, I've been devoting more time to studying the Bible and seeking knowledge than ever before. I've been taking courses that have led me into deeper study of the Old and New Testaments and Theology. I've read the works of great theologians and philosophers, I've researched their writings, and I've wrestled with complex issues. I've read a lot. Studied a lot. Contemplated a lot. Learned a lot.
And it's paid off! I've grown, I've changed, and I'm not the same person I was back in September. However. As I've been growing in my knowledge, I've also begun to allow the sneaky seed of pride to grow along with the rest of me. I've begun to harbour just the slightest bit of condescension and legalism. When I hear believers around me sharing their thoughts and chatting about the various issues of life, I can't help but think quietly to myself, "Well, that's not theologically sound..." "That's not what that verse really means in its context..." "That's not quite right, actually..."
And as I mentally pat myself on the back for devoting my time to studying the Word, I'm snapped back to reality when I realize something. The very people who I demean in my mind and whose "shallow" theologies I shake my head at- they love on others like nobody's business. In fact, they are a hundred times the love-givers that I am! People are drawn to them because they are kind, welcoming, accepting, and real. They show love to everyone without reservation. They jump at the chance to pray for others, however "theologically incorrect" their prayers may be.
They have love. They simply love Jesus, and they emphatically love others.
And I wonder, are they maybe on the right track? Am I the one missing the point?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 - If I could speak all the languages of the earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I had to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing.
...And if I read my Bible 6 times a year and aced my Theology class, but didn't love others, I would have earned NOTHING.
In this life, A + B = C. But not so in the Kingdom of God. It's true that when we ask in faith, we shall receive. It's true that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. It's true that when we call upon the name of Jesus, we shall be saved. These are promises that we can claim!
However, all of our learning and knowledge and growth do not amount to much if we lose sight of the point of our faith, which is Christ. We can work ourselves to death for Christ's sake, and still miss Christ, himself! We can be like Martha, who devoted all of her time and energy to serving Jesus, but missed the actual Saviour! (Luke 10:38-42) We can be like the Rich Young Ruler, who had worked to follow all the commandments of God, but still missed God in the flesh! (Matthew 19:16-22)
Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, and that the humble will inherit the earth. The author of Hebrews said that the followers of Christ, the ones who were "too good for this world," were not the heroes, but the ones who were tortured, jeered at, cut open with whips, chained in prison, stoned to death, sawed in half, killed by the sword, oppressed, mistreated, and left to wander over deserts and hide in caves. (Hebrews 11:35-38)
Matthew 18:3 - Then He said, "I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Matthew 22:35-40 - An expert in religious law tried to trap him with this question: "Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?"
Jesus replied, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."
A part of me doesn't like to hear that. It's a tad bit irritating, isn't it? This world desires our allegiance, our talent, our time, our effort, our money, our striving. But God desires a broken and contrite spirit. Humble repentance. A call for help. This world demands that we increase our status and elevate our names. God tells us that we must decrease so that He can increase. This world wants us to grow up, move out, move on, and get established as independent, responsible adults. But God desires for us to become like children. Dependent on Him. Unconcerned about our ignorance.
If we are ever start to feel like maybe we've "got it," then we can be sure that we aren't nearly as close as the people who know they haven't got a clue. If we ever start to think we're becoming "better" then our fellow sojourners and pilgrims, we can be sure that the opposite is happening.
This is the economy of mercy. This is the currency of grace. The equation of forgiveness. The system of Heaven. In the profound words of Relient K, "The beauty of Grace is that it makes life not fair." It's not linear, and it doesn't make sense. The process of sanctification, growing closer and closer to God on this pilgrimage- it's not a process of advancement and achievement. Rather, it's a process of dying. Again and again and again. Re-learning the basics just when we think we understand them. Becoming the lowest. Putting ourselves last. Washing the feet of others.
To the proud, it's their worst nightmare.
To the meek, it's the promise of Hope.