As I opened my bible today to receive life, my soul was awakened. Jesus told me off.
There was something deeply wrong in me that He wanted to open my eyes to. Something that hurts Him and saddens Him. Something that needs to change, now.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Hearing these words come from my Creator’s lips shook me. I knew He wanted to tell me something important. I re-read these verses and stopped to concentrate at each part to see what it was that the Holy Spirit wanted to awaken me to. Then I realised.
..I’m a Closet Pharisee..
I’m that Pharisee that Jesus Himself rebukes in this passage. I’m that hypocrite. Whenever I read the gospels I never like to find myself in the Pharisees – I’m always the blind man/ Samaritan woman/ one of the apostles/ the boy with the five loaves & 2 fish/ Jesus. But relating to the Pharisees? Associating myself with them? Erm no thanks. As I did my quiet time today though, I couldn’t escape that reality; there were no other characters in the chapter for me to hide behind and meditate on; no characters to cling onto but the Pharisees. I wanted the chapter to finish as quick as possible so I can move onto chapter 24 and not have to reflect on whether I’m a Pharisee or not. The Holy Spirit stopped me though. I felt something telling me to keep meditating on this passage.
In verse 3 Jesus bluntly says that the Pharisees didn’t practice what they preached. He tells to the crowd to obey them and do what they say but not what they do for they were hypocrites. That petrified me. What if Jesus says these words about me? What if I’m the real hypocrite? What if Jesus instructs others to obey what I say but not what I do because I don’t practice what I preach?… It’s so easy for me to say the right things, so easy to put on an act, so easy to create a spiritual persona that seems to be entering through the narrow gate. How foolish. How void. How fake. I think it offends God even more when I do that knowing full well that He sees and knows all things.
“Everything they do is done for men to see” Jesus says in verse 5. I highlighted that verse. If you easily fall into the sin people pleasing like me, this verse will resonate with you too. Everything they do is for men to see. Everything. Everything. What a scary thought; I could be living such a fake life that absolutely every action is performed with the motive of gaining people’s approval and attention – even my walk with Jesus. Disgusting. It really is. Idolising other human beings and putting them at a higher pedestal that God Himself, that I’m willing to fake my relationship with Jesus for a minute of their admiration and applause.
To the proud-hearted like myself, Jesus very clearly explained how to notice if you’re one of these Pharisees. Verse 6 says “they love the place of honour” followed by verse 7 saying “they love to be greeted and have men call them ‘Rabbi'”. Oh boy do I love the place of honour. Oh how my heart lusts for the moment when I’ll be greeted by others and have them praise me. As I read these verses trying my hardest to not relate to them the Holy Spirit reminded me of all the times I’d stood as a deacon/ in tasbeha so desperate, so eager to move up a bench. To have my voice heard. Acknowledgement. Applause. Glory. I was reminded of the times friends had complimented me on a gift that the Lord had so graciously bestowed upon me and how I twisted their godly encouragement into self-praise, eagerly feeding my pride. I was reminded of the times my heart leaped with joy because I was acknowledged by someone more popular than me. Though I feel ashamed writing these words, I thank Jesus with all my heart for opening my eyes to the rise of the old man within me. The old man, who in my case, is a big self-righteous Pharisee too.
If I skip to verses 25 and 27 I hear Jesus saying:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” What more can He say? How clearer can He get? Woe to you O my soul for you are full of hypocrisy. How easy it is for you to appear righteous and holy before men when from the deepest part of your soul, you worship Satan. How you run after him, sprint towards him, lusting for every drop of greed and self-indulgence that he supplies you with. I look at myself, look at the real me, and I question how I have the audacity to call myself a ‘servant’ in the church, how I can dare to dream of being a ‘leader’ when I continue to live as a Pharisee – clean as can be from the outside yet disturbingly filthy on the inside.
How often has your Creator longed to hold you in His bosom O my soul? How often has He whispered gently, spoken tenderly, screamed lovingly to you wanting you to wake up from your deep sleep?
I feel that verse 12 summarises everything the Lord awakened me to today; For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. If like me, you really struggle with pride, and humility is this foreign concept to you that you know a couple of nice quotes on, change needs to happen now. We can’t live lives of Pharisees. We can’t continue to insult our Saviour because of our self obsession. And before we fall into the lie that we can humble ourselves, we need to repent, laying before the King of Kings and ask Him to grant us humility.
Abba Poemen said “as the breath which comes out of his nostrils, so does a man need humility and the fear of God.”
St. Peter of Damascus said “At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true attitude.”
Wake up, O my soul.
Prayer for Humility:
Lord Jesus, I confess that I am proud. I’m self obsessed and I try to please everyone in my life but You. I’m so concerned with cleaning the outside of my cup to appear righteous before others yet I’ve neglected the inside and left it to rot. I’m a hypocrite Lord and I will never deserve your forgiveness. But I ask You to have mercy upon me Lord Jesus Christ and forgive me for You are gracious, compassionate and loving. As you met St. Paul on the road to Damascus and transformed him, transform me O Lord and grant me humility that I may please you every day of my life.
Grant me the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its needs, welcomes advice and accepts rebukes. Help me always to praise rather than criticize, to encourage rather than to disparage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. In Your name Jesus I pray, Amen.