Richard T. Fowler

Offering Christian and Christ-centered commentary about climate- and energy-related issues.

The Cherry-Picking of a Few Trees

One of the greatest Big Lies ever promulgated against Christianity by its enemies is the false doctrine that Jesus rejected the Pharisees because they were too strict .

The Pharisees were politically corrupt , and were anti-biblical in their interpretations of moral issues !

And , they were also completely secular or atheistic in their outlook , which for anyone who knows a little something about authentic Christianity , speaks volumes about how un-strict they were .

But beyond that , and importantly , their political corruption caused them to be unduly strict upon the faithful children of God , even as they were ultra-lenient on their wicked friends and allies .

Their philosophy was essentially the contemporary equivalent of the Chicago Way , or of some of these other “leaders” we’ve had in recent years .

Jesus criticized both of these flaws — the undue leniency toward some , and the undue strictness toward others . But as with all such debates , the key is to try to look at the forest rather than individual trees . It’s tempting to pick out a few trees to support one’s argument (hmmm , that sounds strangely familiar !) but the important question is what is the overall forest telling you ? In the case of the Pharisees , the main thrust of their identified misbehavior was toward undue licentiousness . And this is the overwhelming focus , not just of Jesus’ criticism of them , but also of John the Baptist’s .

It’s also important to remember that while Jesus focused His ministry on those most in need of Him , this in no way implies or suggests that these people’s sins are more acceptable to Him ! All have fallen short , and all are equally forgiven by God if they meet the requirements for it .

In fact , if you look at the Gospels carefully , it is quite clear that The Lord has abundant and passionate criticism for many of those in the “ordinary” ranks of society , and He expresses much outrage over their historically high levels of licentiousness , or what many today would (imprecisely) call “immorality” . While he clearly states that the majority of those destined for salvation live humble lives and are often downtrodden , He in no way limits his harshest criticism to senior leaders . In fact , at one point He openly states that all but the absolute poorest have no chance whatsoever for salvation , based on their assets ! Does that sound to you like singling out the very tippity-top of the pyramid for denunciation ??

So what is the point of this lesson ? For me , in the present context , the main point is that it is highly disingenuous (at best !) to suggest that the lowest ranks of society were targeted for special attention by Jesus because they were already less strict or less obedient , and therefore more inclined to welcome the (supposed) teaching that obedience or Godliness isn’t necessary (which He wasn’t actually teaching !). That notion turns the historical record completely on its head (just like the Pharisees were notorious for doing) , and , ironically , it makes a total mockery of the notion that He went to those “most in need” of experiencing a transformation !

It also igores the fact that , on a per-capita basis, the Pharisees received much more criticism from Jesus than any other group for their licentiousness . So here is another point to this lesson : when Jesus says that He comes not for the healthy , but for the sick … He’s talking about all of us ! Not just one or another particular group . To say as much is a total misreading of His statement! He is saying , essentially , that if you say to Him that you don’t need Him because you’re spiritually “healthy” and therefore already have salvation , He accepts that you are not going be convinced by anything He says , and He won’t bother you any further ! That is a totally different message than the one being preached by many false preachers today about that statement!

So let me see if I can kind of summarize the issues here .

1) The Pharisees were singled out for outrage and criticism , not because they were too strict in enforcing morality , but primarily because they were so licentious regarding their own behavior and those of their friends , and also because they had many leaders in their ranks who were destined not to accept Jesus , and who knew that their lot was not with God , but were nonetheless trying to fight a futile war against Him , simply because Satan had placed that instinct inside of them .

2) Jesus focused His ministry , not on those who needed {{His atonement}} most (because in actual fact everyone needs {{this atonement}} equally !) but rather on those who were most likely to receive His message , and as a result , change their ways , and turn away their foot from sin and death , so that they could receive the atoning power of His perfect sacrifice and taste of a resurrection up to glory and eternal life . In other words , many of the “lower” folk — be they lower in education , wealth , health / physical strength , humility , or the like — were rather more likely to accept His teachings and repent , and walk in The Lord , than the higher ones . But of course , they would need to told of the necessity of doing this ! Otherwise there would be no reasonable expectation that they would see any need to change anything about themselves . Instead , they would just figure , “GREAT ! Jesus accepts me as I am! I knew there was something special about me ! Let’s drink to that !”

3) On the question of Jesus’ approach to the worst of the unrepentant sinners , what evidence we have suggests that , beyond offering correction or warnings to them from a distance , He tended to leave them alone . In fact their tendency , whether they were Pharisees or not , was to approach and violently attack Him while He was engaged in preaching to those more receptive to His message … and His response , at that point , was not to minister to them , but to escape by whatever means necessary . At the end of His work , of course , He made an exception and allowed them to do whatever they would , for the reason that is made clear in the Gospel .

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