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Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees and Sadducees’


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem – Part II

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

In the Book of Acts we see the Jerusalem Jewish Christians struggle with the established, powerful Old Guard structure.  The upstart religious sect condemns the established organization for its corruption, its desire to control, and its refusal to hear the word of God as expressed in the person of Jesus.  Ironically, Paul comes to these same early Christians to tell them that he has spoken with the risen Christ and the young church nearly rejects Paul’s message.  They become just like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them and initially they put aside the Jesus message which Paul brings.  Providentially they realize that Paul is genuine and they agree on a solution to their conflict.  A good study Bible with reliable commentary will walk you through the twists and circles of those disagreements but today we look at this point: unity is achieved in the early church because of the conflict through which they struggle; this early conflict in which they find common ground does not weaken them but rather it strengthens their tiny movement.

How many times does this happen to us?  How many times do we do precisely what we condemn others for doing?  How many times does a revolution take place only to be followed by a punitive system set up by the rebels who fought in the name of freedom?  How many times do we miss one screaming arrow only to run into another?  And how many times do we classify conflict as a struggle to be won, rather than an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others?

We have begun our annual ascent to Jerusalem and we have heard grumblings among the various pilgrim groups with which we journey.  We have embarked on a journey of forty days saying that we want to strip away all that distracts us from communing with God.  We have fasted, prayed, given alms, and sought answers to piercing questions . . . and we have avoided conflict whenever it presents itself.

As the story in Acts tells us today, we will encounter obstacles even on pilgrimage when we have put all of our best intentions forward and brought all of our best efforts to bear.  And rather than ignore, fear, or skirt around these barriers we need to examine them closely, seek wider commentary, ask God for wisdom, and then come to an agreement about how we might remove the hurdle from our common path.  We know that Jesus’ family traveled up to Jerusalem with other families so that they might be safe from bandits and marauders along the way.  Surely they did not all agree on where to stop for the night, which river crossing was best, or who ought to choose which turning to take at the crossroad; yet somehow they arrived.  And so must we.

We are travelling up to Jerusalem today.  Let us embrace the conflicts we encounter.  Let us listen to one another.  And let us remember that unity born of conflict can strengthen a tiny bad of sisters and brothers when we seek the common good and rely on God.

Tomorrow: A world-wide church is born out of an arrest.


For more on the conflict between Paul and Peter, click on the image above or go to: http://timgombis.com/2011/07/24/was-paul-a-doctrinal-watchdog/

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the November 13 post on exploring the city at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/exploring-jerusalem-november-13/

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem: Part I

Over the last seven days we have spent time with a number of people who were with Jesus in his final hours.

Today we begin a series of reflections about the place where this amazing story took place, Jerusalem, the sacred city of the Jewish people, the holy place of God.

jerusalem model

As I understand the expression, all Jews go up to Jerusalem because it is the holy mount – and the temple is placed on the bit of elevation which there is in the city.  Therefore, whether arriving from north, south, east or west, all Jews go up to Jerusalem.  We see Paul, Luke and other Jesus followers go up to Jerusalem to stay with Mnason the Cyriot, a disciple of the Christ, and to meet and speak with James – the leader of the church in this capital city and by most accounts, the brother of Jesus.  What follows in today’s reading is a bird’s eye view into one of the early church conflicts.

Paul has met with Jesus – the details of this encounter are outlined in various places in Acts and in his epistles and a good study Bible will lead you through those readings – and he tells everyone that he has been called by the Christ to spread the good news about the universal salvation which is available to all human beings.  The Christian Jews have a problem with this – and there is irony in this story for me – they realize, know, understand and act on the idea that they are the new church, fulfilling the new covenant through Christ, replacing the Old Guard of the temple Pharisees, being co-executors with God of the plan that we see initiated in Genesis 1.  These Jerusalem Jewish Christians see that a new Way must replace the old one – the New Law which has been written on hearts will replace and fulfill the Old Law which was written on stone tablets.  They also believe that the only way to attain the salvation promised by Jesus is first through the Mosaic or Old Law, and then through the New.  The irony here is that they wrangle with the Pharisees and Sadducees (the former believe in keeping themselves separate, apart and pure while the later do not believe in resurrection or life after death) who maintain a strangle-hold control over the temple, its rites and monies.  This Old Guard of aristocratic Jews believe that they are to continue to control the Jewish church structure and they will do this by jettisoning the important message which Jesus brings: the New Law of Love which does not rely on the temple structure, the rites and the cash.

The Jewish Old Guard sees their control of power, prestige and money falling away because if this new Law of Love is true, each human now has a direct link to God through the resurrected man Jesus.  The Old Guard is no longer needed in their role as intercessor.  Of course they prefer the Old Testament God of separation from the unclean, maintenance of outward signs of purity, and demanding adherence to temple rituals to this New Testament God of personal intimacy, maintenance of both outward and inner purity, and a freedom to worship in the interior temple which we are to prepare and maintain through a lifetime.  They prefer the structure over which they have control to the one over which they have none and in which each person finds his or her own relationship with God through a life of prayer and living in unity with all.  They fear the presence of Jesus resurrected, of Christ’s Mystical Body.

Tomorrow: Unity achieved through conflict . . . when we go up to Jerusalem


Image from: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/where-did-it-happen/

To learn more about Jerusalem and the many places that tell the stories of Jesus’ last days, visit Victor’s Place blog and read journey back through this pilgrim’s journal as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2: I am Charging Youscroll shema

February 23, 2015

Moses says to his people: So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Jesus tells the hypocritical leaders of his time, and he tells us today, that no matter the number of religious rules and practices we might proscribe, with God there is one Law that supersedes all others. But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

God says: When you find yourself caught up in the details of my Law, you can be certain that what you have focused on is something I do not have in mind. My kingdom is one of forgiveness, of healing and of love for all – even, and especially, our enemies. Do as I do – call to those who would harm you. Do as Jesus does – witness to the hypocrisy in the world. Do as the Spirit does – heal the suffering and anxiety you see in your world. With all of this, you will find great peace. Through all this, you will experience deep serenity. Because of all this, you are my great love in the world.

When we spend time today with these verses and reflect on their meaning, we may discover what portion of our lives we withhold from God. And we may also discover how we honestly and fully love God with all we think, all we believe, all we say and all we do.

To learn more about the mezuzah above and The Shema, the most sacred of Jewish prayers, visit: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema.html 

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Tissot: Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees

Tissot: Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part IV: Witnessing 

Are you not mislead because you do not know the power of God?

On this day of All Saints we celebrate the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in their own act of witness. On this day when we celebrate our own gift of sainthood we recall words from the Letter to the Hebrews: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

In reflecting on the idea of resurrection, we have come to understand that it is not a possession that we might earn but rather a presence already in our midst. Christ is among us, healing and calling, soothing and loving. But we must be watchers with open minds.

When we consider the gift of resurrection, we have come to believe that it is not a privilege bestowed on an elite few but rather a gift already given to all. Christ is within us, restoring and renewing, transforming and changing. But we must be receptive with open hearts.

Once we understand that Christ is already among us and that we will glimpse him in the loving acts of another, we also understand that we must witness to this wondrous gift of self freely given. When we slip into the thinking of the Pharisees who say that in order to love God we must memorize a code and adhere only to this code without considering what results from our elitism, we know that we must watch for the healing hand of God who includes all and excludes none. When we find ourselves thinking as these Sadducees who doubt that the Living God exists and that he loves us to the point of taking us in, forgiving and holding us forever in love . . . we must be on watch for the Spirit who speaks ardently to those who fear or doubt.

And once we have watched . . . once we have waited . . . once we have worked as a response to the Gospel call . . . then we must call one another to faith . . . a faith filled with outrageous hope in new possibilities.

We must be on watch like the sentinel on the high city tower. We must wait patiently as the virgins who anticipate the coming of the bridegroom. We must work in the kingdom fields of mercy and compassion and healing.  And as we watch and wait and work we must witness as the risen Christ to one another as we call out to one another these truths we hold dearly and closely. We ask intercession from the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to help us as we run the race of life. In this way we might hope to avoid the fate of the Sadducees we see today . . . the fate of living a life that is greatly misled. 

Compare other versions of today’s citation and watch for the presence of the Spirit in your life today.

Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

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Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part II: Waiting 

Have you not read . . .?

Yesterday we explored the clash of movements into which Jesus steps and we can see why certain sectors of ancient society might oppose the teachings of Jesus.  He strikes at the root of power and influence.  If we all have access to the temple through our personal relationship with God in the person of Jesus, we have no need of hierarchy.  If we all have access to God through our deeds rather than through temple sacrifice, we have no need of priests.  If we all have access to forgiveness and justice through God as sisters and brothers of Christ, then we have no need of a power structure’s intercession on our behalf.  As siblings in one family, we are all called to intercede for one another.  As children of the living God, we all have access to new life and new beginnings.  This is, indeed, good news for us . . . but not for these Sadducees who challenge Jesus because they see in him an end of their hold on power, an end to their income, an end to life as they know it.  We can understand their fear, and we might dig deep within ourselves to see our clinging to authority and structure. How much of the Sadducee hides within our own heart? How willing are we to wait on God’s plan? How eager are we to live in the Spirit of discipleship that holds little comfort and even less prestige? How prepared are we to step into the vineyard to gather the fruit of God’s harvest rather than the fruit of our own plan?

God says:  I understand that the plans you make in my name are good and honest and that you see your ideas as an outflowing of my heart. I love the energy you spend on my work. I am enchanted by the care you take in the precision of your labor. I am in love with your goodness and mercy in my name. I also see much more than you can see. I understand far more than you can understand and this is as it should be. I created you. You do not create me. I love you and call you to goodness. This is all that I require: that you act in prudence, watch in hope, remain in faith and witness in love. You can give me no greater gift than the full and complete surrender of yourself to the work of my Kingdom.

Are we prepared to watch for the resurrection that in promised to each of us? Do we have waiting hearts and minds open ready to receive the gift of new life that comes to us without our asking?

Tomorrow, working . . . 

Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

 

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Tissot: Chief Priests Talking Together

Tissot: Chief Priests Talking Together

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mark 12:18-27

Resurrection – Part I: Watching

You are greatly misled.

In today’s citation Jesus attempts to instruct the Sadducees about resurrected life, telling them that they have missed the Mosaic message and promise. The Sadducees were members of a priestly family descended from one of David’s high priests, Zadok.  King Solomon gave this group supreme control over the Temple and they came to form one of the ruling parties of Judaism from the time of the Hasmonean Dynasty around 146 BCE to the destruction of the Temple in 70 ACE.  They stood on the religious authority presented in the first five books of the Bible, The Torah, and were highly conservative; yet despite this leaning, the Sadducees were open to the Greek culture and may have been willing to sacrifice their beliefs for wealth and power.  They took special exception to the belief in the existence of angels, resurrection, and life after death, beliefs held by the Pharisees, a religious reform movement that began in the century before Christ’s birth emphasizing fidelity to Jewish law through an elaborate system of oral laws that bolster the written Mosaic Law.  This movement found its base in the local synagogue where scriptures and traditions were studied, and a strong sense of piety was nurtured.  It is into this world of closely held ideas and tightly fought intellectual battles that Jesus comes to the poor and disenfranchised to turn the world order on its head.

For more on the similarities between the Pharisees and Sadducees, visit the Jewish Virtual Library at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sadducees_pharisees_essenes.html

St. Paul was a Pharisee who zealously defended the Jewish faith before becoming the feet of Christ to take the message of spiritual freedom into the world.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees jealously guarded the influence they had with the occupiers of their land; but we see without much effort the dichotomy between priestly sect and lay people, between temple and synagogue, between strict conservatism that sees the path to God through the temple sacrifice conducted by priests and the lay movement seeking to invigorate faith through instruction and fidelity to the Law.  Both groups saw Jesus as a threat . . . for he came to set the faithful free from narrow constraints and corrupt hierarchies. Jesus reminds us repeatedly that there is indeed, a true path to God, but it is open to all.  It charges no Temple tax and it requires only that its followers work in God’s vineyard to build God’s kingdom. The Temple is now Christ who lives in each of us. The Law of Moses is now fulfilled by the Law of Love that Jesus brings. The only tax we need pay is our allegiance to a loving God who welcomes all to the feast. And we will miss all of this if we are not watching for the resurrection that lives with and for and in us each day. When we focus on self, we become protective of all that we have built up like the Sadducees who question Jesus. We miss the truth that God uses each of us in God’s way to build The Kingdom that heals and saves. We miss the truth that Christ reveal to and in each of us . . . and we find that we have become easily and greatly misled.

Tomorrow, waiting for the resurrection . . .

For insights into Luke’s story of how Jesus interacted with his accusers, click on the image above or go to: https://www.lds.org/manual/print/new-testament-student-manual/introduction-to-the-gospel-according-to-st-luke/chapter-20-luke-23-24?lang=eng 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.Glossary 433 and 436. Print.   

Adapted from a reflection written on November 22, 2008.

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