Scribes and Pharisees…

There have been so many thoughts swirling through my mind these last few days as I have read the news stories (and comments) about the clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because of her religious convictions. Some of them make me angry…some make me sad.

But as a follower of the one who was called Jesus, there is one scripture that keeps coming to my mind. Jesus seemed to have a running feud with those who were the religious leaders of his day. Not because he disagreed with their authority. In fact, he seems to recognize their authority to be teachers and interpreters of the law…and honors their concerns. The Pharisees were leaders who cared deeply for the implications of the Torah and who sought to understand it. The scribes were learned men whose business was to study the Law, transcribe it, and write commentaries on it.

But they were human, as are we. And by the time of Jesus, many of them had become rigid in their interpretations…and seemed to live as though the rules applied to others, not to themselves. They loved being seen…being recognized as being pious (holy)…

And that’s why I find myself struggling.

I don’t doubt that this clerk has strongly held religious convictions. But her own life seems to say that those convictions apply to others with whom she disagrees…not to herself. There is much in the Bible about divorce…yet she has apparently been married four times. There may very well be valid reasons for those divorces–but they are not scriptural.

Jesus called out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of his day. He encouraged his followers to listen to what they taught, because there was validity and worth to those teachings and the best of them encouraged ongoing interpretation of them. But it was the teaching, not the example that he encouraged them to follow. And–as was often the case–he challenged them…and us…to focus on the things that build people up and help them become who they can be:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”–Matthew 23:23

May we all learn how to focus on those weightier matters…justice, mercy, and faith.

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