Return of the Pharisee
For most, the term “Pharisee” is seen as synonymous with “hypocrite.” The Pharisee is the preacher who talks about marital fidelity yet secretly views porn and visits prostitutes. It’s the politician who talks about reducing global warming and going green yet drives a gas hogging SUV and lives in a multi-million, energy consuming mansion. It’s the woman who piously speaks of being untied with the “sisterhood” yet viciously tears down any woman she sees as competition.
In other words, common usage of the term indicates a Pharisee is a person who presents a moral persona to the public, but whose hidden persona does the exact opposite whenever he or she can get away with it—a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde morality.
But while the people who belonged to the original sect often were hypocrites, according to Christ’s assessment of them in the four gospels, they were especially known for their love of minute rules and regulations which they believed if followed, led to righteousness and favor with Jehovah.
As far as the Pharisees, who along with the Sadducees were members of the upper classes, nothing was off limits as far as regulation was concerned. They were legal extremists, studying and making laws and following them scrupulously.
Examples of their devotion to legal minutiae abound, but a few will suffice to illustrate the rigidity of their lives. If they ate common foods, they washed to the joints of their fingers; but if they were eating offerings or were at an official banquet, they washed to the elbows. As a ten percent tithe was required, they even tithed the leaves of herbs such as mint or cumin. Even the yeast used to make bread rise was proscribed. Only one formula could be used. All other yeasts were forbidden.
The Sabbath was the particular focus of legal minutiae, loaded with hundreds of decrees restricting how far one could walk, what one could carry and what one could wear or eat on the Sabbath.
They regarded themselves as so holy they never needed to repent, nor would they converse, much less eat or drink with, anyone they thought were sinners. Worse yet, they regarded the common people as unclean, refusing to have anything to do with them.
Ah, the poor commoners. So burdensome were the laws of the Pharisees the regular folk of Israel simply couldn’t keep them. They were too busy trying to scratch out subsistence from the soil and tend their meager flocks to pay attention to all the regulations intended to make them holy. Trying to survive and to pay the onerous taxes of the corrupt ruling class, they were hampered by the fact they were desperately poor, having neither the wealth nor the servants necessary to lead the life of leisure necessary to adhere to the truly religious and sanctified life recommended by their rulers. The lower classes complete inability to follow all the rules meant they were always guilty of infractions and thus, according to the superior classes, worthy of dismissal and contempt.
No wonder the good Rabbi characterized them as “whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside but full of the dead bones of legalism on the inside.
It is easy to condemn the Pharisees of Christ’s day, but pharisaical overreach is characteristic of political as well as religious zealots--legalistic zeal is not always overtly religious, as our present day political scene demonstrates. Anyone can recognize the pharisaical tendencies of today’s insufferable ruling classes, which are determined to force their politically correct, religious observations on the masses, come hell or high water. They supposedly, like the Pharisees, know the law is the way to produce a truly righteous society.
The suffocating number of rules and regulations, not just on businesses, but on every citizen’s life, is truly numbing. Whether it is the pettifogging Seattle school teacher who rules out the term “Easter eggs” in favor of “spring spheres;” or the draconian decree of the Chicago school system forbidding homemade lunches for students; be it the forced removal of basketball hoops because they are not the appropriate number of feet from the road; be it the arrest and incarceration of a young adult for the minutest possession of marijuana; the list goes on and on.
In the meantime, as countless regulatory bodies such as the EPA, larded with some 18,000 employees and a multi-billion dollar budget, are busily designing ways to control and regulate businesses, the ruling class of today looks and lives much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day—high on the taxpayer’s hog. Average income for a government employee far exceeds the pay and benefits of those in the private sector, being almost double the amount a worker in the private sector makes.
And then there’s the way the ruling Pharisee classes live. The President and his wife are exceedingly conspicuous examples of what Thorsten Veblen termed “conspicuous consumption.” Mrs. Obama preaches monkish diet habits to you and your children while dining with impunity on fast food favorites while she and her husband serve Wagyu beef at $20,000 per carcass to voracious hangers on at White House banquets. Mr. Obama goes on lavish trips to places like India, trailing an entourage and indulging in tastes which would make a nineteenth century’s maharajah’s excesses pale in comparison.
Those who endlessly attack churches as harboring Pharisees might try to stop looking at the local Baptist church in order to find premier examples of hypocritical, rule making hypocrites. Not smoking, drinking or dancing are voluntary choices made by religious folks who don’t force their devotional observances on Joe Citizen. They are scarcely the equivalent of the bloated bureaucracy vomiting out a constant stream of rules and regulations designed to make Everyman’s life “better.”
Citizens might want to take a look at where the real Pharisees reside and ask themselves if they want to continue to support the ruling class and all its onerous regulations with their hard earned tax dollars.
In brief, the Pharisees have returned with a vengeance; but, actually, they probably never really left.