Written Word

What Would A Pharisee Learn From Jesus?

The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders in Jesus’ day who turned religion into a heavy burden for the people. They majored on keeping the law perfectly, thinking they were reflecting the will of God by their close attention to such things as the tithing of dill, mint and cumin and the washing of hands and utensils before eating. Many were influenced by the Pharisees’ teachings and found little joy in serving God. Against this background, Jesus invites the spiritually weary and burdened to come “learn from me” (Matthew 11:29) The Pharisee who accepted this invitation learned from Jesus that God is exceedingly gracious to sinners.

But what about those caught in sexual sin? Sexual sin has always been viewed in a different light and placed in a category of its own. Theft, gossip and hatred hardly ripple the water, but not sexual immorality. All the more surprising then that we find Jesus in the company of the sexually immoral. In Samaria a woman made her way to the village well at noon, the hottest part of the day, a time when other women from the village would be absent. It’s there she meets Jesus. The conversation moves quickly to her marital status. “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.'” (John 4:16-18) Five husbands and now living with her boyfriend! Sexual purity was not radiating from her. Yet the scripture tells us that her meeting with Jesus brought new life, transformation and pardon. Jesus’ dealing with this woman had to impress the Pharisee. He would see that God has time for those whose sins have pushed them to the edge of society. A woman who had not heard too many kinds words directed towards her because of her lifestyle hears that she is loved by God, who longs to have fellowship with her.

And on another occasion, when a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus, there was no shortage of accusers, no shortage of men capable of quoting the relevant scripture and no shortage of volunteers ready to stone her. Jesus invites those without sin to cast the first stone and her accusers move away without condemning her. And Jesus says the kindest words she could ever hope to hear, “neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:1-11) The Pharisee may well have been puzzled at Jesus’ treatment of her, knowing that adultery was condemned in Scripture and carried a death penalty. That’s what sin deserved, but the same God who gave those instructions also spoke of mercy to sinners, a point that was often lost on the Pharisees.

A polite dinner party hosted by a Pharisee reached an embarrassing stage when a notoriously sinful woman joined the company. It was said that she “had lived a sinful life” and the Pharisee was surprised that Jesus would allow her touch him because of “what kind of woman she is – that is a sinner.” This woman had a bad track record. Scripture makes no attempt to conceal this. The story indicates that she had earlier encountered Jesus, who dealt graciously with her, transforming her from sinner to saint. Her anointing of Jesus in the house of the Pharisee flowed from a heart filled with love for having received the divine touch of pardon. Grace so amazing now consumed her because “her many sins have been forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50)

The Pharisee who accepted Jesus’ invitation to come “learn from me” came to know of a God who is compassionate, caring and gracious to sinful men and women. We must keep our faith focused on Jesus, and thus avoid becoming modern day Pharisees who would make serving God a burden. Those who know the transforming power of God and feel his gracious acceptance will joyfully live in accordance with his will.