Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hypocrites and Snakes

Jesus uses some harsh language in the Gospels, especially when He's talking to (or about) the Pharisees. One of His favorite words for them is "hypocrites." Another is "snakes." And I think there's something inside every one of our hearts that fears, to some degree, that He might do the same thing to us.

Not just call us hypocrites, but call us out.

It puts a lot of people on their tippy toes around God. If He's this merciless with those who claim to be the faithful in the Scriptures, shouting and screaming and yelling and making a spectacle of them, then how could we expect much different from Him today when we, who claim to be faithful, live as hypocrites? (And we all do it. We're all hypocrites.) It's hard for us to get this image of Him out of our head. Oh, how clearly He hates hypocrites. 

But how dearly He loves sinners.

What we have to understand about this Jesus, about the Lord who calls out hypocrites and makes very public displays of doing so, is that He draws His lines very hard. These hypocrites, these Pharisees...He calls them out because their sin, their hypocrisy, is masked in authority. These are the teachers, the preachers, the priests. It's their job to teach the truth. And since their job is public, so is their rebuke. 

It's the way it has to be.

See, Jesus can't just pull the corrupt teacher aside and whisper to him, "You're doing this wrong." He can't just quietly call the man a hypocrite and let his heart convict him of it. There's too much at stake. There are too many ears listening to the words of the teachers, too many people relying on what they are told. If Jesus does not make a bit of a spectacle of it, those listening won't understand the severity of the corruption of the truth that stands before their very eyes. They just won't know any better. They may think that since Jesus heard, too, and since Jesus sees, too, and He doesn't say anything, that these teachers are getting it right.

It's also why Jesus calls these Pharisees "snakes," when He never calls anyone else that. It's because this word, this name, will conjure up for the faithful images of the Garden. It was the snake, after all, who convinced Eve that it could teach her something about God that she didn't already know from walking with Him. As soon as He calls out the Pharisees as snakes, all those within earshot hear not just an insult, but a warning: these men are deceiving you.

And they're deceiving you about something big: they're deceiving you about Me. They are claiming they know something about Me that you can't know from walking just a little ways with Me. They are claiming they have the whole truth and are willing to share that with you, but only for an incredibly high price that they have not even paid themselves. They are leading you astray. Beware the forbidden fruit.

It's a stern warning for those of us who are charged with teaching, who are called to speak the truth of God into the world. But for the rest of us? For the average, run-of-the-mill, everyday sinners? It's just not our story.

Most of us don't have to worry about Jesus calling us out as snakes. We're not deceiving the world about God; if anything, we're deceiving the world about ourselves. Saying that we're God-fearing and living like we're not. We're not deceiving the world about the greater things; we're deceiving them about our lesser things. And while that's still a sin, it doesn't make us snakes. Sinners, maybe, but not snakes.

The same with our hypocrisy. We're all hypocrites. We all say one thing and do another, at least to some degree. Sometimes, it's deliberate. Sometimes, it's error. Sometimes, it's folly. It's always sin. But is it such grievous sin that God must call us out on it in front of everyone? Not usually. We call each other out, as though we're doing some great service to the planet or the Gospel by doing so (we're not), but God doesn't call us out. Because for the most part, we're pursuing truth and failing at it; we're not preaching truth and corrupting it. There's a huge difference.

That's why Jesus had to call out the Pharisees. It's why He had to make a public spectacle of them - because they were making a public spectacle of themselves. And there's something in all of us that is a little bit afraid that's what Jesus will do with us when we reveal ourselves as sinners. He'll call us out. He'll shout and scream. He'll make a spectacle of us. 

But He won't.

Because as much as He hates hypocrites, He loves sinners. And that's in His Gospel, too.

That story, tomorrow. 

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