First some clarification on terminology. The term Christian Right used here refers to the fundamentalists, many of the so-called evangelicals, and those who use the Bible as a weapon instead of a gift. They apply scripture to modern-day culture rather than understanding it in the context it was written. They pick and choose the passages they like. Fundamentalists are dangerous in any religion. Al-Queda and ISIS are Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom have no idea of the entire teachings of the Qu’ran.
Many on the Christian Right are the first to condemn the Pharisees without any comprehension of who the Pharisees actually were. Yes, they were “legalistic” but that is not why Jesus spoke out against them. The Pharisees came into existence following the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. They realized this exile had been God’s punishment for their failure to keep his laws and commandments. So their intention was to scrupulously adhere to each and every law given to them.
Jesus, in fact, praised the Pharisees as a whole. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:20) Jesus proclaimed “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven.” He ate with the Pharisees.
But in Matthew Chapter 23 Jesus uses the same phrase six separate times:
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Reading these passages, it is their hypocrisy, not their beliefs, that he condemns. Earlier in the chapter Jesus spoke to the multitudes and his disciples regarding them. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do….” It was not their teaching, but their actions he denounced. “… but do not do according to their works; for they say and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.”
The “prosperity” preachers like Joel Osteen should not be included, because they are most certainly not Christians. He and others like him will be among the ones who cried “Lord, Lord” and Jesus will say “I know you not.”
Who are our modern-day Pharisees? The ones who says the words, but fail to fulfill the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. The ones who get it wrong. They are the ones who want to build a wall and deport children, yet ignore the words of Jesus “For I was a stranger, and you took me in.” They want to enact legislation that would limit healthcare (Medicaid) for the sick and the elderly, yet ignore the constant injunctions to “care for the widow and the orphan.”
They freely quote Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” but have no trouble overlooking Leviticus 19:33 “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
They are the ones who have dared to claim, as did Franklin Graham in a recent article published by The Atlantic, that Donald Trump was sent by God to be president of the United States. His rationale for making that statement was that because Trump said and did so many horrible things during his campaign, only God could have elected him. Perhaps someone should remind Rev. Graham that God also sent the 10 plagues on Egypt.
Graham goes on to say in the article “If they [Christians who have concerns about Trump] have problems with Trump, and with the role white evangelicals are playing in this era of politics ‘Talk to God about it’ If they’re hurt, sorry …. I believe Donald Trump’s there because God put him there.”
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Each Christian walks his or her own path to follow Christ. There are creeds and catechisms that provide guideposts along with way. Scripture is our roadmap, but it is not inerrant or infallible. We need to read it as servants of the Word rather than to be the master of the text. Sometimes, in spite of that, we get lost in the wilderness. Only by following in the footsteps of the Rabbi Jesus can we live an authentic, radical, and Christian life.
In the 19th century Russian author Dostoyevsky placed a segment called “The Grand Inquisitor” in his classic novel “Anna Karenina.” In this segment, he envisions Jesus returning to earth in Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Church decides that in order to survive as the Church, Jesus cannot be allowed to live.
The martyrs of the faith, from the earliest days to the present, are the ones who placed God’s law above the law of man. From the first martyr Stephen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Those people who would obey man’s law before the law of God are wrong. Those people who follow the translated (and sometimes inaccurately translated) words of Jesus but do not carry his Spirit are wrong. And to borrow from an old song, “If Loving Jesus The Way I Believe Is Wrong, Then I Don’t Want To Be Right.”