Except for the fact I’m a woman, I might have been a Pharisee. 

I’m a big fan of rules, but one of theirs was “no women allowed.” 

Other than that, there is a lot about their lives I might have appreciated. But Jesus didn’t appreciate much about them at all, and that gives me food for thought this week.

This article comes out on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick wouldn’t have been a great Pharisee, but he was a good friend and disciple of Jesus. 

WHO WERE THE PHARISEES? 

I read an interesting article on the Pharisees. They are mentioned ninety-eight times in the New Testament. The name Pharisee probably is related to the idea of being separate or detached, similar to the meaning of the word holy

The article described the religious leaders by saying, “In many ways, the Pharisees were the worst people in the world. They were cold and legalistic. At the same time, the Pharisees were the best people in the whole country. They were the holy men who kept the law; they pursued purity with a passion and wanted nothing more than to live lives that pleased God. They were sincere, albeit sincerely misguided.” 

So, where did the Pharisees go wrong? 

They wanted to please God but did the opposite. They took their eyes and thoughts away from God by idolizing rules as their god. It was the most prevalent sin throughout Scripture and remains a significant temptation for God’s people today. 

You have to admit, it is confusing. God told Moses to, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The entire book of Leviticus is full of rules for God’s people. The Pharisees took God’s rules and turned them into thousands more. 

God gave us a framework of laws and standards in Scripture so we would know right from wrong. God’s people have always wanted to know what rules to follow because we want to make sure we are following God. The problem: it’s tempting to start following rules instead of God. 

God told Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). At some point, the people began to think God wanted the lamb or the wheat instead of their repentant heart and their love. 

That’s one reason Jesus was angry at the Pharisees. He told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23). 

ST. PATRICK GOT IT RIGHT 

An interesting article on St. Patrick said that, as a boy, Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland. He was forced to work in the fields under terrible conditions. 

One night, in a dream, God led Patrick to escape to the coast, where he was rescued by some sailors and returned to his home. Years later, after becoming a Catholic priest, God called Patrick back to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick is credited with bringing the gospel to that country. He converted thousands of souls and started hundreds of churches throughout the country. Tradition says that he used the Irish clover to teach people about the Trinity. 

In his book The Confession, St. Patrick wrote: “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.” 

Patrick learned to love God, and that priority enabled him to love even those who had once enslaved him. 

IF YOU WANT TO PLEASE GOD . . . 

Do we serve God hoping to appease him or because we love him? 

We can try to please God like the Pharisees, or follow the example of St. Patrick. 

Why did the Pharisees fail to please God while Patrick was named a Saint? 

The Pharisees served the letter of the Law and St. Patrick served the Lord of the Law. Pharisees felt like they grew spiritually as they learned to understand and obey more laws. St. Patrick wrote, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith.” 

If we want to please God, we need to examine our motives. 

When last did you obey a law simply because you loved and trusted the Lord of the law? 

TRUE LOVE IS NEVER AN ACT 

Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” the literal word for an actor. Jesus told them they only acted like they loved God. Jesus knew their hearts and said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). 

I confess there have been many times I have worried more about the outside of the cup too. There were many Sunday mornings I got ready for church and spent more time thinking about what I would wear, who I would see, and what I would teach rather than Whom I was to worship. 

I might have been a Pharisee in the past, but I don’t want to be one now. 

There is a reason Easter is my favorite holiday and my least favorite day at church. The church was filled with new clothes, fresh flowers, a live orchestra, and a lot of people who only came that day because it was a holiday. 

In a way, I think I felt about Easter Sunday like Jesus felt about the Pharisees. It was more an act than an act of love. 

THIS EASTER, IF YOU WANT TO PLEASE GOD . . . 

Last Easter, we were stuck at home, with churches shut down. A lot of people felt like we missed Easter. But, I think God enjoyed much of last year’s Easter worship. There was no reason for people to act like they had Easter joy. Those who worshipped did so because they truly loved the God they sang to, prayed to, and were grateful for. 

It is the Lenten season, the days to prepare spiritually for Easter worship. It isn’t our “works” that please God; it’s our love and devotion. When last did you kneel at the cross and gratefully grieve the sacrifice Jesus made for our redemption? 

We can spend Easter acting like we love God or actually loving God for all he has done. The difference between a Pharisee and St. Patrick is that one knew how to please God, the other loved to please him. 

I might have made a good Pharisee, except for Easter. It is easier to serve God’s rules, but Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). Let’s remember the example of St. Patrick and make this a great day.

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