The Pharisees 3 - Setting Ourselves Above Others
Chan Gin Kai
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:29-30)
It was a criticism disguised as a question. The Pharisees had already formed an opinion about the tax collectors, and Jesus’ fraternising with them... They’re tax collectors. They’re traitors, extortionists and cheats. We should stay far away from them and not get ourselves tainted. Why would any self-respecting rabbi want to hang out with these sinners?
The Pharisees were blind to their own self-righteousness and set themselves above everyone else. They were technically more righteous than the tax collectors and other ‘sinners’. They prayed a few times a day, fasted frequently, tithed precisely, and read and memorised the scriptures diligently. They observed the letters of the law legalistically, but their hearts were far from godly. During his ministry, Jesus confronted them a few times for their hypocrisy (Luke 11:37-54, Luke 20:45-47).
It is so easy to become hypocritical like the Pharisees.
Are our prayers a routine checklist of requests, or do we pray with humility and reverence towards God? Do we fast to lose weight, or do we fast to focus on prayer? Do we read the Bible to find useful insights to teach others, or do we strive to understand God and draw close to Him? When we tithe, is it with a cheerful and sacrificial heart? Do we reach out to people to oblige a God-given mission, or do we genuinely care for people’s salvation? And do we stay away from the ‘sinners’?
We’ve self-righteously imagined ourselves to be better than others and kept away from people who are ‘not like us’. We look at them and form judgmental opinions... That guy must be from a gang, look at the number of tattoos he has. She must not be a good girl; she has a child born out of wedlock. My colleagues like to party after work, I should keep a distance from them. That man swears like a sailor, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish, flee! I must not become like these people, so I should stay away from them.
We misquote and misapply the Scriptures. We are supposed to flee from our sinful desires (2 Timothy 2:22), not flee from ‘sinners’; for we ourselves are sinners. We are not supposed to get “yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14); but to eat, drink, hangout and become good friends with unbelievers is not yoking with them. How are we supposed to help the unbelievers if we do not draw close to them? Why are we so afraid of getting influenced by them, that we forget that we are called to influence them?
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
The Pharisees criticised Jesus’ questionable choice of friends. But did they manage to help the ‘sinners’ by showing disdain from a ‘righteous’ distance? Jesus drew close to the ‘sinners’, touched their hearts and changed their lives forever.
We need to stop setting ourselves above others. We need each other’s help to draw closer to God.
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Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".