On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this.
There is a similar scene in Luke 13. There, a crippled woman attended the synagogue. Let’s watch people’s eyes. Jesus “saw her.” He had eyes for the poor, for people who were suffering. The Pharisees had eyes too: but only for breaches of their rules. The ruler of the synagogue was furious that Jesus had healed on the sabbath (technically it was ‘work’, and work was forbidden on the sabbath). He couldn’t look at Jesus, he couldn’t meet his eyes; he addressed the people with words meant for Jesus, for he lacked courage to speak to him face to face. But Jesus certainly looked at him when he said, or perhaps shouted, “You hypocrites!” The eyes have it. The absence of compassion in their version of religion was never so clear. It is no wonder they came to fear and hate him. And it is no wonder they encompassed his death. Violence is the reaction of people who can't look you in the eye.
A girl was giving me a blow-by-blow account of a row she had with another girl. It had escalated from a disagreement to an outright shouting-match. Had they been boys the next stage would have been fisticuffs. But in this case the punch-line was, “I gave her a look!” Ever since then I've been more aware of looks. In a history of malicious looking the Pharisees would represent the golden age.
In his Gospel and Acts Luke mentions Pharisees 35 times. Scholars believe that the reason for this is that there were many Christian Pharisees in the Lucan communities, many rigorists who wanted to impose Jewish law on Christians, and it was necessary to remind everyone of how the Jewish Pharisees had opposed Jesus' work. Pharisaism is a constant temptation for Christians: this has been so from the beginning and it is still the case. It has proved very difficult to get it into one's head that our salvation is through the grace of Christ and not through observance of law. The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard said that human beings long for a purely legal relationship with God; then they would know how to keep God behind a line, at arm's length, in a place apart: in other words, out of their life. But this kind of relationship is not possible, for God is a loving Father.
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