They meant it for the best—in the beginning. But time has a way of turning the best intentions into something altogether different.
The local hierarchy met regularly to insure their brotherhood and to support their system of governing the people. Infractions of their club’s rules were reported and recorded with intricate precision. Each member could spot a broken law from a far distance, like an arrow slamming into the intended bulls-eye. They took themselves so seriously, it was joked among the people that one had to break a commandment in order for a Pharisee to smile.
613 regulations. That was the official count to follow as a true legitimate Jew, and the Pharisees knew them all by heart. Tradition was their real god, and, as the spiritual leaders of the time, it was their duty to make sure every Jew obeyed their interpretations of God’s laws. But, like a spiraling leaf falling from lofty heights, their failure to impose over 600 strictures on the common man swirled into heavy burdens.
“Friend, did you tithe those spices before you prepared the meal?” (Rule #476).
“You—over there! How dare you? You just walked two steps over the designated amount on the holy Sabbath. No matter that you were visiting a sick relative—this is forbidden!” (Rule #6).
“Tobias did not properly purify himself before eating yesterday. He did not wash his hands in the prescribed manner. Did you notice he shook the water off his fingers instead of allowing the cup of water to run downward off his fingertips?” (Rule #159).
The Pharisees were like lint police, always looking for specks and making them of greater importance than doing the mercy and love and justice that God desired. They were looked upon as the “politically correct” of the social world; and, like today, these leaders were often hypocrites. They put on a good show of piety and holiness, doing their good deeds to be seen by others. They advertised their holiness by wearing phylacteries on their foreheads and arms (boxes containing Old Testament verses) and long tassels on their robes to prove that they were remembering all of God’s commandments. They exalted themselves.
Jews considered the Pharisees religious fakes because the “religious leaders” maximized the 613 rules of the Old Testament while neglecting the more important issues of love, of mercy, and of justice that God really wanted. They were seen as arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental.
“Remember, friend, you are not pleasing God if you are not obeying the holy 613.”
The whole Pharisaical premise was flawed and evolved into a fiasco of pretended shepherding of the common people because it was based on a power struggle to lift themselves up by tearing others down. The Pharisees needed to make themselves important because of the poverty of their souls. They had a zeal for God, but took the easier route of following the designated 613 in the absence of a changed heart full of compassion and mercy. It was easier to walk away from an act of charity out of pious religiosity than to deal with the problem out of love.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees because they were hypocritical, imposing heavy loads of guilt upon the people when they themselves were not willing to lift a finger to move them. In today’s world, we can identify political, social, or spiritual leaders who have the same mentality as the Pharisees of old. Their programs to assist the poor and needy are many, but so convoluted that it takes a rocket scientist to understand the pages and pages of legalistic nonsense they bring before the common man. More power, more money for funding, more acclaim pollutes their agendas, turning their safety nets into crutches for the poor among us, binding up the real gaping wounds with band-aids, and becoming heroes in the process.
Debacles are cloaked in the guise of serving others, when, in truth they are many times just a means of edification and hidden objectives for the leaders themselves. Over time, we may be able to see through their facades before we become dedicated followers to their warped positions, but many times, the damage is so widespread, exposing the truth is like trying to put out a fire with a child’s squirt gun. Ineffectiveness is garbed in sheep’s clothing so thick, the real culprits are difficult to detect, and scapegoats are selected to take the blame for others' failures.
Let us not be guilty of complicating the simple.
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