Monday, October 5, 2020

Burdens to Bear

When we talk about the Pharisees, probably the most obvious of their errors that comes to mind is the high burden of obedience they placed on others. They sat down and studied the Scriptures and determined more hundreds and thousands of tiny little things that all those words must mean, and they turned their interpretations into a law unto itself. 

Remember when Jesus's disciples were walking through a field on the Sabbath and picking the heads of the grains and eating them? Well, it was the Pharisees who said they couldn't do that. Because it was work, and you can't work on the Sabbath. Never mind that they were also traveling, which they shouldn't have been doing on the Sabbath, and that it doesn't say it was their field, so they were probably stealing, too (or gleaning the poor man's portion, which may or may not be stealing depending on how you look at the disciples). But the Pharisees chastised them for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. 

It was something, in the grand scheme of things, so small. Like walking mindlessly by a bowl of nuts and picking a few out. It's just a natural human behavior; we just tend to graze. Grazing was just a little different in those times. But the Pharisees had sat down, studied it, and determined that picking a single head of grain to munch was technically 'work' and thus, broke the law. Well, they made it a law...and then accused the disciples of breaking it. 

It's important not to overlook the fact that the Pharisees' strictness came from study of the Bible. These were not ignorant men, not by a long shot. They were devout. They were devoted. They gave their lives to knowing God's Word as intimately as they possibly could. They wanted to know the Scriptures inside and out, not necessarily to make life harder for everyone but because they were (at least, at first) earnestly seeking holiness. At some point, they came to love the power and authority it gave them, but most Pharisees didn't start with an end goal of power and authority. Their eyes were, at least for awhile, legitimately on God. 

But the fact remains that they made the burden of faithfulness too heavy to bear. For everyone. In a Pharisee's eyes, no one was faithful. Especially not anyone outside of their little study group. 

And the same thing is still happening in the church.

The church is full of persons who deeply love God, who have invested themselves in the Word, who have studied and prayed and know what God desires of us, and have made the price of admission to our pews too high. They have determined that it is necessary for someone to have their life together before Jesus will love them, so they have set up roadblocks to ever coming to the Cross. 

The hard truth is that most of the persons in the world who are either afraid of God or intimidated by Him are not actually reflecting on God at all; they are reflecting on His self-appointed gatekeepers who have told them their life doesn't measure up. They are reflecting on a burden that's been placed on their shoulders, not one that's been taken up for them on the Cross. They are looking at what we tell them it means to follow God, and they're saying...I can't. It's not possible. I can't do it. (And they are watching us fail at it, too, and wondering how there can possibly be hope for them, who do not know God, if we can't even get it right and we claim to love Him.) 

If we want to stop being Pharisees in our churches, we have to flip the script. We have to stop putting such a high burden on those who would come and instead start talking about the burden God Himself carries for us. We have to stop making it about what we need to do and talk about what He's already done. We have to stop letting our love for God make us think that we have it all figured out and confess that we're still learning, that we have some ideas but we don't know everything. And then live out our faith based on what we do know, which ought to be - above all things - grace. 

Grace just goes an amazingly long way. 

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