This is just some noodling. Pharisees were one of the rival groups of Jews at the time of Jesus. Paul was a Pharisee. It is often assumed that Jesus came from a house that would have been closer to the Pharisees than any of the other groups. If nothing else, there is passion in his exchanges with them. It seems to be the passion of “you should know better” or great disappointment. When the word Pharisee is used today it is usually in regards to some mixture of works-righteousness and judgmentalism. Take a look at Luke 6:1-5 as an example of this. A longer view of this might be Luke 11:37-54. I dare you to read that slowly marking the social situation and not feel the paint peeling. In both cases the Pharisees had rules, and the rules were the important thing. There is an easy intellectual jump from that the Luther’s reactions against relics, indulgences and pilgrimages.

But There is a second group of Pharisees (I think). There are some confrontations with this group as well. One of the big ones was actually John the Baptist. See Luke 3:7-9. To this group who claim “Abraham as our Father”, the Baptist responds with repentance and works. Luke 13:10-17 contains an encounter where Jesus calls a woman he heals the ‘daughter of Abraham’ contra the ruler of the synagogue who scolds him for doing something. That healing is preceded by Luke 13:6-9 which is the parable of the barren fig tree. The tree that produces no fruit is cut down. It is followed with the instruction about the narrow door and the lament at being excluded from the table with ‘Abrahama, and Isaac…” (Luke 13:22-30). Two other examples, Luke 16:19-31, is the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man of course does nothing through his entire life by let Lazarus hurt. In hell he calls out to “Father Abraham”, but gets rebuffed. And in Luke 19:1-10 we have Jesus and Zacchaeus. Jesus’ pronouncement to Zach is that “he also is a Son of Abraham”.

If the first group of Pharisees is known because of their overwhelming legal piety. Even Jesus would backhand compliment these Pharisees in Matt 5:20. Their righteousness was not enough, but if you were following their path, they were the high bar. Then this second group should be known by their lack of anything other than empty claims of belonging.

We have been preaching against pharisees for 500 years, but exclusively the first kinds. What would it mean to preach against pharisees who claim “we are the Children of Abraham”…now leave us alone? Would this come off as works righteousness? What is the gospel proclamation to those who claim Jesus and His baptism, but produce no fruit? That is a serious question. I’d love to hear comments/thoughts as to if/where I’ve gone wrong, or if I’m right what is the Protestant response?

Last Judgements

Gospel Text: Matt 25:32-46
Full Sermon Text

I hate to say it, but this is an example of decent sermon prep that lacked editing and carry-through. At least 1 point two many. About a page and a half too long. And missing a story element. Although I do have to add that I’m amazed I didn’t see more yawns. Probably because I didn’t have it down enough to deliver it and was looking down at my paper too much to see them.

Ok, done beating myself up. At an intellectual and a personal piety level this text is a grenade. What I will say is that the Last Judgment from Matthew confronts and contradicts so many of our doctrinal and de facto pieties that it would be tough not to lapse into homiletic underwear and lecture. On its face the judgment is based on ethical reasons. If all you had was the last judgement from Matthew you’d have to say that Pelagius was the saint and Augustine then heretic. I think I describe the web of texts to evaluate that, to put it into the larger story, but it would be much better to have the bible open in front with the possibility for questions and conversation. Putting that aside, our culture in general has moved beyond that debate of works and grace. The phrase translated eternal punishment just isn’t believed by most people. There are different scriptural ways of addressing it that give due pause to abyss we are staring into, but most of America just doesn’t lend credence to the concept of hell. The way I typically describe it for bible study folks is that my impression is most of America has accepted the gospel without hearing the law. They don’t know what they are doing in other words. They take the cheap grace without pausing to think if it is fool’s gold.

The last part which dominates the sermon and would have been the core point is that we modern Americans just don’t understand monarchy. What lands the goats in fire is not that they are evil to their core. They answer Lord. They wonder when they haven’t been good. Thinking of a human King – arguing from lesser to greater – you can immediately see the times when it is what you didn’t do that got you in trouble. It is what you don’t do that typically brings into question the kind. If the King says – “do the will of my Father” and then you proceed to ignore the law completely…

So, I’m glad we have a lectionary that forces these texts. I’m also glad it only comes up once every three years.