Me, the Pharisee

First Reading: Colossians 1:24–2:3

Brothers and sisters: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you and for those in Laodicea and all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged as they are brought together in love, to have all the richness of assured understanding, for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 62:6-7, 9

In God is my safety and my glory. Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from him comes my hope. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed. Trust in him at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before him; God is our refuge!

Gospel: Luke 6:6-11

On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored. But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.



Legalism does funny things to people, including me.

A small bit of context: the Pharisees (unlike the Sadducees, the traditionally prominent religious group of their time) did not see the Torah as adequate when it came to governing matters of keeping the Jewish law—religiously or legally speaking. So they began to see the oral tradition of the Jewish people as legally and religiously binding, in addition to the Torah. This is where the Talmud began to emerge. (To learn more about the Pharisees, click here.)

Now, let me make one thing clear. I absolutely love rules. They keep me sane. If I don’t make it a rule (this includes eating healthy, exercising, cleaning, praying, writing music, not biting my nails etc) it doesn’t happen—so I have to make rules and live by them, or else I’d be doomed to frittering away my time semi-accomplishing things and then, amidst piles of stuff and unfinished business, hazily wondering where my week went. (To be honest, many of my weeks still do go this way, but I’m working on it.)

A hallmark of legalism and obsessive rule-keeping is that it outwardly manifests as a lack of compassion for others, but at the root of it, it’s a lack of compassion for yourself. When you are too busy obeying God to sit at His feet, you turn your gaze outwards and you judge others. The obedience and the knowledge are important, but unless they flow out from and lead back to contemplation of the Lord, they become a hindrance to yourself and others. (Mary and Martha, anyone?)

I used to scoff at the Pharisees. Those blind guides! Those sticklers! That brood of vipers! Thank God I’m not like that. (Ooooooops.) But now I realize, had I been alive at that time, that totally would have been me. I am still working hard to undo the residue of obsessive rule-keeping that infuses my life thanks to a Fundamentalist upbringing (which, it bears saying, gave me many valuable gifts as well. Like most things, it’s a mixed bag) and in the process I am learning to have compassion for the Pharisees—and here is the super important part—in that, I am learning to have compassion for myself.

Boiling things down to a system of rules and deadlines works REALLY well when it comes to getting things done. It works terribly when it comes to loving God and receiving His love. Receiving Jesus is the point of life. Resist the temptation to reduce your relationship with God to a list of rules, even though that is easier—it will be all the richer and sweeter for it.

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Practice listening for the Lord each day for a few silent moments and contemplating Him in your mind. Keep a journal about how it goes, and ask yourself why it is difficult, if it is difficult.

photo by Corynne Olivia

Audrey Assad is a wife, mother, and musician. You can find out more about her here.


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