Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 12:1-3 Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
When there is a crowd of thousands trampling each other to get in the front door of your church, what do you do? Most of us have not had that experience, but just in case we are ever faced with that problem, Jesus gives us a clue. You call a meeting. You gather your key leaders and give them a 'pep' talk or, in Jesus’s case, a warning.
"Beware the yeast of the Pharisees," he says, "that is, their hypocrisy." Translated: the Pharisees are pretenders, actors, not what they appear to be.
I will resist my usual urge to defend the Pharisees for living into what they were trained to do, socialized to do, and blinded to... If you are a regular reader you've heard it already; they were doing what they believed was right. Let's talk instead, about how they might have gotten there. How did the Pharisees become so misguided? And how can we protect ourselves from falling into the same trap?
Jesus's ministry started out simple enough. It was centered on the basics: living out God's saving and healing love, bringing those on the margins into the center, naming and casting out individual and societal demons, and bringing wholeness to the broken. And it was a great ministry! So great that everywhere Jesus went, the crowds increased- to the point where they were in the thousands!
This was a tipping point for the ministry. The crowds needed to be managed; without intervention they would hurt themselves and others. ("Trampling one another" can happen in a variety of ways, amen?)
Jesus knew that as crowds swell around a ministry or minister, or around a church, the temptation to begin to run that church like any other worldly institution, also swells. Now, on the surface, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, does it? Aren’t we supposed to encourage church growth? Don’t we need a business sense to best operate the business of the church?
Sort of… The thing is, we can get so swept up in the “business,” and the numbers- how many, how much, how often- that the mission of the church sometimes gets diminished. Jesus addressed the Pharisees about this issue many times; that they were, in keeping their rules and rituals, missing the heart and spirit of real ministry. When we run church like a business, we begin to think like business owners: “How will we attract and keep new customers? What will make our customers come back again and again? What is our profit margin? How will we maintain our business space/building and make it functional and attractive so people will want to be there/shop longer/buy/give more.”
From those questions we create: programs, activities, better/more engaging/entertaining worship, committees, giving plans, budgets, goals for ‘us’ and ‘our people.’ Our mindset then brings us to managing all of these people, programs, and plans; so we make rules, complete with incentives as well as consequences. We become focused on OUR business. And yes, God is still in the mix somewhere, but sometimes, even our sense of spirituality runs second to running the church.
This, Is what happened to the Pharisees. There were 613 laws to keep. There were countless rituals to perform. There were services to lead. There were state and government taxes and laws to follow, and for the Jewish leaders had to report to Romans, even for the simplest things like getting a key to their own supply closet. So, moving religion closer to a conventional institution happened gradually, and slowly. The burdens placed on the people didn't happen overnight; it was one little restriction at a time.
Aside: That's why It's so Important to American Baptists to keep separation of church and state firmly in place- but thats another blog post for another day...
Jesus came to uncover all of this- 'nothing stays hidden' where Jesus is present. He came to lift that burden of business, and return us back to who we are meant to be. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees. Stay true to who and what God has called us to be: agents of peace on earth. We are called to a movement of non-violence, justice, and mercy. Our ministry is centered solely on healing and reconciliation through God in Christ. We are bearers of God's sacred light and inclusive love... Disciples of Christ... Followers of The Way.
Peace to you this day,