Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sympathy for the Pharisees

I lead two bible studies on Wednesday afternoon. The first place I lead Bible Study is at the Brookside Apartments. They are a part of the Hot Springs Housing Authority, and that organization receives funding to rent to tenants on a sliding scale based upon their income. The second place I teach at is at Pine Hills Retirement Community, which is a little less than two miles away, up on top of the hill overlooking the town. Pine Hills is privately owned, and provides independent living and assisted living apartments for seniors, as well as housing an Alzheimer's unit. They are both fun groups, although the Pine Hills group has been more exciting for me the last few months. Both groups are now in different stages of studying the gospel of John.

One of the unique characteristics I have noticed among my Pine Hills group is that as we have studied the gospel of John, they have developed a sympathy for the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day. They were at one time, leaders of the church and political leaders of the Ancient Israelites, who were at the time occupied by the Roman army. They were the Moral Majority leaders of their days, calling the people to a renewal of holiness in the private and public spheres.

This sympathy began to develop in John 6, where after feeding the 5000, when Jesus begins to engage in a series of confrontations with the Pharisees regarding Jesus' moral authority. Jesus says things like "I am the Bread from Heaven" (John 6:52) and later goes on to say, "before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). The ladies assure me that their faith is not in doubt, but also assert that if they had heard what the Pharisees had heard from some fellow claiming to be the Messiah, they would have had their reservations about believing in his claims as well.

This Wednesday we discussed John 9. In John 9, a man born blind is healed. The Pharisees are still threatened by Jesus, this time by his healing on the Sabbath, They are also concerned in making sense of what Jesus is doing. What are the implications of a healing of a man born blind? Does this demand our opposition of him, or our support of his ministry? It is a fascinating chapter in Scripture.

We discussed for a while why the Pharisees might be concerned about this fellow that was healed. I explained that the Pharisees had put a lot of time and effort in organizing and controlling the behavior of the Israelites, and that Jesus, both by his teaching and his miracles, was beginning to unravel that sense of forward direction and control of religious practices and authority.

Then it was time for me to confess my sympathy for the Pharisees.

I told them this story. "It is like this in a way, " I said, "there was this gentleman that visited our church on Easter...."

William was the name of our visitor. He had first visited our Bible Study that meets before church. Then, he made his way into the sanctuary. I was setting up on the platform before the service. William called to me. We spoke. It was about 20 minutes before the service started. He engaged me in an empassioned, franetic, and difficult to track conversation for about 10 minutes. He used to live here in town nearly 20 years ago he told me. He was up at the VA Hospital in Sturgis, and after running several tests on him, they sought to admit him to the psych ward. He refused to go. "I am just full of the Holy Spirit," he said jumping up and down, shaking, a bandage over his head, and wires attached to monitors on his body. "I am pastor of the Universal Church of (something), I am a shepherd of about 2 million souls."

I smiled and visited and attempted to disengage from the conversation several time. Eventually I got him comfortably seated, and then went to the back of the sanctuary. "Jerry, we have an adventure for you today," I said to our usher for the day, "there is a rather interesting fellow sitting up front that appears to mentally ill. I may need your help with him."

"What do you want me to do?," Jerry asked.

"I don't know. You guys will know how to handle the situation right if it comes to needing to ministering with him in other ways. Just wanted to give you a heads up."


My anxiety level was pretty high by the time the service started. We began with singing. No problem. We had a responsive call to worship. He began to shout out the "leader" portion after the leader, instead of reading the response in the responsive reading. All the while, I am at one time trying to lead with enthusiasm, but also saying to myself, "How am I going to manage this problem?"

I like to love people as unique people made by God, and brought into my life for a reason. This man was beginning to be a "problem to be managed." I don't like that attitude. But I wanted to have at least a few people return after their annual Easter visit. I had sympathy for the Pharisees.

Somehow, as he began to shout out his need for an apartment during announcements, I had to move along to the next song, and then sit down behind him, and tell him that I could introduce him to people in the rental business after the service. "Thank you. And ok, preacher, I will try and be quieter." I felt bad. But I was doing what I had to do.

Later in the service he threw bread at my object lesson with the children, among other things. I tried to be understand and tried to be open to how the Spirit was working among us with this curveball that had been sent our way. But I was not about to let go of control of the service. I had an event to manage, constituents to serve, a sermon to preach. Instead of leaving the 99 sheep for the one lost sheep, I had sympathy for the Pharisees. I did my religious duty, I managed the problem.

But that does not mean I don't wonder whether I did the wrong thing or the right one.....

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