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It’s easy to get really reproachful about the Pharisees in Jesus’s time. After all, Jesus was pretty critical of them … right to their faces.
But you know what? We’re not Jesus.
I’m doing a read-the-Bible-in-90-days thing, and once again, I’m in Leviticus. (Writing about Leviticus is still what sticks out to me when I remember my 31 Days of The Book series.) And reading last night, I realized that these were the laws the Pharisees were trying to follow. These long paragraphs of blood and kidneys and altars and offerings. Just trying to read through Leviticus is enough to make my brain wonder. What if I had to memorize all those rules?
If I had to try to remember to put the sacrifice’s blood on someone’s right big toe and right earlobe and right thumb …
If I had to remember whether a pigeon was an OK sacrifice or whether it had to be a goat …
If I had to remember which parts to burn and which were for the priests to eat, which parts had to be waved in the air and where the blood had to be thrown or sprinkled …
I might have been a Pharisee, too.
When presented with a long, complicated list of laws, it would be easy to form an obsession about them over a passion for God. I am pretty easily turned to obsessions – I either care about something too much or too little. And I can almost see the wheels in those priests’ heads turning, trying to interpret these laws, trying to remember the right way, trying trying trying. So much trying that little room was left for listening with the heart.
And then Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, stop trying. My burden is light.”
But all they’ve ever done is try.
I don’t want to sympathize with Pharisees. But really, I do.