Thinking Anew: When rules are not enough
The one who is truly wise can reject the acceptable prejudices
The Gospels must make for an unpleasant read for Pharisees. We know very little about them because we have always been told that they were not good people. Quite the opposite is true. The vast majority of them were excellent people trying to live the Law of Moses as faithfully as they possibly could. Within their community there would have been a cohort of bigots, zealots and pompous gits among their number. Of course there were; like many other human groupings, the hypocrites and bullies are the ones we remember.
For a species that defines itself by its intelligence it makes no sense that we do this. The Pharisees were only one of many groups, parties, sects and communities who shared this fate. More bizarrely still, we can take fashions of challenging generalisations against one group while tolerating generalisations against another at the same time. When something becomes described as “the last acceptable prejudice” we do a great injustice to ourselves. With the possible exception of organised crime, there are probably no associations in the world where the majority of the membership is bad.
As individuals and groups we can all sin legally. There is nothing illegal about getting a reduction on a product that has been subsidised by increased payments by those who cannot afford to buy in one go. The poorer pay more and the richer reap the benefit but it is not against the law. People deceive each other, cheat on each other or spread gossip about others, and it’s all perfectly legal. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Harm that is not illegal is still harmful. As a supposedly bright species we should be able to tell right from wrong anyway. If that is too difficult, try not doing things to others that you would not like them to do to you.
Pharisees lived by different rules and this marked them as different to others. For the early Christians, the rule-based approach to faith was not their ideal. Simply not breaking a law does not mean that you are doing the right thing. Rules can bring great comfort. Rules can provide a good template to learn how to be good. Rules are the simple end of faith. But when those rules tell you to ridicule, shun, punish or kill a non-rulekeeper, your rules are unholy. It makes a sinner of the one who keeps it. That was the constant dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. It was not people he challenged; it was the way they believed.
Rules of themselves are not bad; we make them bad. The sinner that is not breaking any rules can claim to be doing nothing wrong. But if this homo was truly sapiens it would be aspiring to something higher. The one who is truly wise can reject the acceptable prejudices, can live with loopholes and can glimpse that little bit inside every one of us that we like to think godly. The simple rule of love thy neighbour asks no more than glimpsing the godliness inside the other person. This rule does not provide for exceptions.
Regardless of whether we are Christian are not, if we indulge our hatred for other individuals or for certain types of individual we are not good people. Some consider themselves Christian but are happy to discriminate.The argument Jesus has in tomorrow’s Gospel is with all legalised sinners. It was not limited to a bunch of dead hypocrites who discredited the ordinary, decent, good-living, remainder of the Pharisee community.