Terry Jones is more than the Pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida. He is the man who can calmly look into the camera and explain why he intends to publicly burn a copy of the Koran in what he says is “… Not a message of hate. Our message is a message of warning to the radical element of Islam”. The constant attention of this incident and his bizarre inability to understand his own actions has made Jones into much more than just a Pastor. He has become a media darling, the center of attention – and it has given him the ignoble status of Pharisee.
The teachings of Jesus are very clear on many things. He never said that his way was easy, either. What he did tell us is that those who are truly his followers would obey a higher calling than the petty selfishness that has caused so much suffering on earth.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:44-48 (NRV)
Naturally, Jesus met with violent opposition to his teachings, most notably from the ruling religious class known as the Pharisees. These were a group whose status in the Temple was determined, in large part, by how much fervor they had when enforcing the word of God. Their political status was dependent on public displays of piety that defined an increasingly narrow religion.
Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
Matthew 15:12-14 (NRV)
The Pharisees not only took offense at these words – they ultimately had Jesus executed in the most painful way possible for daring to oppose them. They did this because Jesus placed himself between their loud public displays of piety and what these hypocrites pretended to represent.
Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:5-6 (NRV)
Today we have many Pharisees who use the word of God for their own political gain. They have taken the plain and direct teachings of Jesus and twisted them into a message of hate. They do this in the name of Jesus, but it is clear that they are advancing only their own careers. Most will openly call for the powers of the state and church to be combined so that their status can be further increased, ignoring the separation that Jesus himself defined so clearly.
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Matthew 22:17-21 (NRV)
Christians around the world rightly lament the decline in faith that has become an epidemic in the western world. But the root cause of this is not faithlessness itself – it is the simple and obvious fact that Christianity itself has been taken over by Pharisees.
The Pharisees are the ones who executed Jesus once, and their class is working to kill him yet again. They do this for their own political gain and little more. Their own hypocrisy defines them as clearly as it did the Pharisees of 2000 years ago.
Who will stand up to today’s Pharisees and risk being nailed to the cross as Jesus was?