Rob Buckingham's Blog

Pop-Up Pharisees

The pop-up trend is relatively new. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an increasing number of pop-up shops, cafes, restaurants and markets. Two thousand years ago there also seemed to be an interesting trend around Jesus. I call them the pop-up Pharisees and it’s based around one of the more amusing stories recorded in the gospel of Matthew.

Jesus had just made His stunning statement, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). His words flew in the face of the religious establishment of His day that put people under a heavy yoke or burden: “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders.” The religious were unkind, arrogant and sometimes just plain nasty. People were worn out by this distortion of religion and so Jesus invited them to come to Him to experience the difference: gentleness, humility, rest and ease.

The very next verses in Matthew’s gospel give a classic example of what Jesus was referring to: “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath” (12:1-2). Where were these guys? Were they following Jesus or were they hiding in the grain fields? Whatever the case it seems obvious they were spying on Jesus and His followers, waiting for them to do or say something wrong and then just popped up – “we caught you guys breaking the law – and on the Sabbath; woo gotchya!” This was an all too familiar occurrence throughout Jesus ministry.

A few weeks before this event Jesus had come across a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth – the very same Matthew who years later recorded these events for us to read today! Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, and Matthew did so. The first thing Jesus did was have dinner at Matthew’s house and many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. Enter the pop-up Pharisees: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” See how Jesus gave them homework to do, “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Fast forward to Matthew 12 where these religious leaders pop-up to bring condemnation – and notice Jesus’ response, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” In other words, if you’d done your homework you wouldn’t have made the same mistake again. It seems the pop-up Pharisees never did do the homework Jesus gave them – they never learned the lesson – and two millennia later we still have people just like them ready to pop-up and bring correction and condemnation. The only difference is these days the pop-up Pharisees are not hiding in grain fields – they’re hiding behind keyboards.

I believe God sent His Son into the world to build a bridge for people to come back into relationship Him. Pop-up Pharisees are into building walls, but “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). I’m a bridge-builder. I believe every Christian should be. But watch out for the pop-up Pharisees. They prefer walls to bridges and they’re brutal. I have so many personal examples of this but I’ll limit it to three.

In a 2008 message called “Real Christianity is Accepting”, I suggested that God loves everyone, Jesus died for everyone and that “everyone” included, ummm, everyone – even gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex and bisexual people. It seemed pretty obvious to me but enter the pop-up Pharisees with their harsh, condemning, unkind words. In fact I’ve discovered that homosexuality is something you cannot write on – or speak about – if you want some Christians to be nice to you. The same happened when I wrote a blog earlier this year called “Thoughts on same-sex marriage”.

I believe blogging is a very good way to engage people in thoughtful discussion on important issues, and that certainly happens, but the pop-up Pharisees get personal and unkind:

  • There is so very much wrong with this message, it would take a chapter of a book to deal with.
  • How does a pastor write this nonsense?
  • I find your piece disingenuous …
  • Rob … ‘God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’.”

I admit I had to look up “disingenuous.” It means I’ve been dishonest, insincere and deceitful.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled, “Are pro-lifers really pro-life?”.

It was simple enough. I am pro-life but I get concerned when I hear that the attitudes and actions of pro-lifers end up building walls rather than bridges with people who God loves and for whom Jesus died. And so I asked four very simple questions that can be used as a filter for all of us who are pro-life to ask ourselves when we have contact with a woman considering an abortion – or if we speak out or act on this ethical issue:

  1. Are we pro-life or pro-birth?
  2. Are we pro the life of women too?
  3. Are we pro-life in other areas of life?
  4. Are we concerned about the damage we do to the Christian faith? (When we don’t speak or act in a Christian manner).

The blog was not about abortion, but rather about the way pro-lifers act and speak. Enter the pop-up Pharisees many of whom completely missed the point of the blog:

  • An extremely disappointing article by the pastor; at stake are babies who are being killed. How can followers of Christ justify premeditated murder?
  • Rob Buckingham going more and more into apostacy [sic] if you ask me …
  • All of your terribly irrational pro-choice arguments. The Bible says that we should not kill under ANY circumstances whatsoever, nor should we condone killing, which is sadly exactly what you are doing …
  • Jesus would not encourage anyone to murder another person regardless of the circumstances, and as such, you claiming that the right thing to do is to allow women to have abortions is remarkably anti-Christian. I am very disappointed to see this rhetoric spouted by one who claims to be a man of Christ …
  • Unmistakable lack of love, compassion and gentleness for the unborn child …
  • The premise of Rob’s article is quite ridiculous, condescending and harsh …
  • I was decidedly put off that a christian [sic] pastor could be ‘pro choice’ and that so many of your flock could be supportive of this article.

And then last week I wrote an article entitled “A Christian response to Halloween”. Again, this was about building bridges not walls. I gave a history of Halloween and made it clear that “we don’t allow our children to dress up as witches and goblins, and we’re not comfortable with our kids going door-to-door asking for lollies.” But I suggested some ways that Christians can engage with culture in a Christian way. I also show the link between Halloween and the importance of praying for Christian people who are being persecuted for their faith. What did the pop-up Pharisees have to say?

  • “This is just another Americanism making it’s [sic] way into Australia. Christian or not, why are you celebrating this on this particular day. If you wish to celebrate this day then that’s your choice but don’t push it onto others.
  • This is watered down rubbish …
  • Do you honestly believe that if Jesus were here, he would participate in any of these pagan festivals? If your answer is yes, you are reading a different Bible …
  • Rob I don’t agree with your compromising view to encourage others to celebrate Halloween
  • Lollies are full of white sugar which is harmful to their health and caused [sic] obesity.”

Interesting last point about white sugar (which I steer clear of by the way). Jesus said, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” It’s not just the words we speak but also those we write. In His next statement Jesus mentioned a number of things that defile a person including false testimony and slander – that is to injure, insult or malign a person’s character. That’s what the pop-up Pharisees did to Jesus. And they’re still hard at work today!

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