“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28
Jesus reserved His harshest condemnations for religious hypocrites. Not for prostitutes and tax collectors, but people who quoted the Bible and walked around praying all day, peppering their daily conversations with “Praise the Lord!”
For me, this has been the source of never ending fascination. I could write a myriad of blogs on just this topic because faith plays such a huge part in my life. And I have to ask myself a tough question: am I a religious hypocrite?
The reason I have to ask myself this question is because I have learned something: people who are very zealous for God are often some of the biggest hypocrites in existence. There is nobody so blind or harmful as a Pharisee, a person walking around who carries the Bible and quotes memorized Scripture as easily as they breathe.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were the men who stood above the masses when it came to religious duty and adherence. They were esteemed as being pillars in the community for their community service and generous tithing to the Temple. When they prayed, you could feel their intensity and no doubt hear them from a long way away as they shouted out their praises and petitions.
But make no doubt about this fact: they were men of cruelty, and while it is possible they loved animals and treated their own livestock with care, they despised people, especially “sinners.”
For these men, it was the letter of the law and not its spirit that was all important. If it was the Sabbath, and a desperately ill man needed to be carried in the arms of his friend to the doctor for lifesaving treatment, well, this could not be done. After all, the Pharisee reasoned, the Bible forbids working on the Sabbath, and certainly one man carrying another fits this obvious prohibition.
In these men’s minds, you can seek treatment for your illness on any day but the Sabbath, especially if you have to be carried in the arms of your friend. Tough luck if you’re dying on the holy day. Suck it up and wait until the next day, then you can seek your healing. And if you die waiting, well, praise the Lord! You obeyed His commandments and you will receive your reward in heaven for being faithful and obedient.
If you think I’m out in left field on this, read Mark 3:1-6 and you will see what I mean. This story is so incredible that it almost seems unbelievable. How could these Pharisees, in verse two and identified in verse 6, actually be so hard-hearted toward this poor man with the withered hand that they would not want him to be healed on the Sabbath?
These Pharisees did not want this man to be healed on the Sabbath and reacted so cruelly due to their “hardness of heart” (verse 5).
Those of us who truly believe we are Christians, particularly if we are unusually zealous for the faith, face dangers of falling into the same trap as these Pharisees. There seems to be nothing more deceiving than this tendency for super religious and devout people to be guilty of hard heartedness.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are picture perfect examples of modern day Pharisees. One only has to look no farther than their evil and cruel doctrine of “shunning” than to verify the truth of my statement.
“Shunning,” in case you are not familiar with this, is when a JW, at one time a faithful member, suddenly finds themselves at odds with something in the organization. Perhaps this JW is seriously questioning some teaching of the organization, like the ban on blood transfusions, and can no longer support it, believing it to be a man made doctrine and not something supported by the Bible.
If this is brought to the attention of the elders and found to be true, and this particular JW is then asked to repent and cease from going against the teachings of the Governing Body on this issue, he has only two choices: repent or be disfellowshipped.
If they abide by the convictions of their conscience and stick to their belief, they will be kicked out of the organization and the other members must, and will, “shun” them. They will become invisible to the other faithful members and be treated as if they no longer exist. No friendly “Good mornings!” if they are met in the grocery store, no speaking to this disfellowshipped member as they walk down their neighborhood streets, etc.
And this even applies to parents. In other words, a mother or father would also be shunned in this cruel, perverse and unbiblical manner by a son or daughter. Such is the awesome power of the Pharasaic spirit that rules the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, blinding all of their members to such wicked and evil behavior, even toward parents; all because that mother or father simply chose to exercise their conscience in a minor biblical matter.
If there is one prayer I pray as frequently as any other, it is, “Lord, where am I deceived at this moment in my faith?” I must understand that I, too, can be deceived at any part of my faith, even over strongly held and cherished beliefs that I have held over a lifetime.
I will discuss one such strongly held belief in the next post.