The Antidote to Phariseeism – Take the Red Pill

Have you ever had a Bible verse leap off the page at you? Has God ever whispered in your ear that this one verse is for you right now?

During a recent prayer time that happened to me as I read this passage from Matthew 9:10-13:

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 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.”

It seemed straightforward enough. I understand all the words. But what if, like many things, I think I know what it means but I don’t really understand what God means it to look like in my life?

Besides that, I’m very conscious of my Pharisee potential. I’ve loved Jesus a long time and I’ve attended church even longer. I travel in “churchy” circles and because of all that, sometimes I develop a bit of a musty odor, like winter coats when they’ve been stored improperly.
I take seriously Jesus’ warning to “be on guard against the yeast of Phariseeism” and He seems to indicate that this verse is part of the antidote.

I’ve been visiting churches this summer. That’s too long a story for this blog post but it isn’t about any conflict with the church I’d been attending. God simply stirred up a restlessness in my spirit and handed me the project of visiting all the churches in my hometown to write about it.

Observing different traditions and worshipping in a range of styles highlighted areas of faith where I had begun to develop rigor mortis. It reminded me of spiritual truths I had forgotten and helped me see areas of teaching I’ve emphasized to the neglect of others.

In a couple of churches that were clearly from more liberal traditions than mine, I felt my guard go up at any mention of inclusion or of God’s all-encompassing grace. But then I challenged myself. Is God not inclusive in His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ? Is God’s grace NOT all-encompassing? Through years of worshipping in a more conservative tradition, had I actually become suspicious of mercy and grace?

Does anybody else smell mothballs?

As I observed these congregations, I also watched myself. I started out listening for buzz words, scanning each congregation for clues about where they fall on debatable issues, what they emphasize, what they reject. But not far into each service, as I was drawn into worship, I found myself forgetting to judge and just looking for Jesus as He walked amidst His people.
It was – dare I say – worshipful.
One thing you must understand about Rhode Island churches is that they’re small – I mean, agonizingly small. If churches in American were the children of world nations, Rhode Island churches would be Ethiopia. In one congregation I counted twelve worshippers and that included me, my daughter and the three worship leaders. Their organist was sick so we sang unaccompanied and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want to judge this little church that comes from a very different tradition than mine, I wanted to spoon feed rice gruel into it’s parched lips and nurse it back to life.

I’ve grown too accustomed to labeling congregations – liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, mainstream, emergent, traditional, contemporary. When did we decide to accept that as the paradigm from which we operate? Why have we plugged into that particular matrix? Well, I don’t want to be there anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no interest in supporting congregations that compromise, don’t teach the truth or who water down the scriptures – that serves no one. But neither do I want to support rules focused churches that make their worshippers suspicious of grace, of inclusion, of offering a cup of water to a thirsty child without insisting she attend a Bible class first.

And now I’m thinking that being a student of mercy is part of the key.

I don’t recall hearing anyone preach on mercy – ever. And yet, there are countless scriptures where it’s emphasized. I’ve just begun to study but it strikes me, already, that God describes Himself as merciful and so, we should be full of mercy.

Is mercy a password that could free us from this liberal-conservative deadlock? I’m beginning to wonder.

Don’t be afraid. I’ve no interest in “one world church” or in holding hands with those who compromise the gospel, and I only visited churches that, historically, have proclaimed Jesus as the only way to salvation.

I’m not looking to slide down a slippery slope – in fact, I believe I’m standing on the very solid ground of God’s word because in Micah 6:7-9 He tells us this:

“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

What if we stopped asking are we traditional, contemporary, liberal, or conservative? What if, instead, we asked – Do we act justly? Do we love mercy? Do we walk humbly with God?

What if those are the questions? How would we fare?

I don’t pretend to have paradigm shattering answers but I want to jump off the grid from which I’ve been operating for so long because it doesn’t work for me when I lay it against the matrix of God’s word.

For this leg of the journey with Jesus, traveling to the deepest heart of God, mercy is the river into which I will dip my canoe and find out where it takes me.

Want to come along? Swallow the red pill. It’s called mercy and it will help stave off the symptoms of Phariseeism.
I would love to hear your thoughts. . .
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Quote from The Matrix: “”This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”


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6 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Wise choice. I would expect no other from you!

  2. Loved the matrix analogy. Count me in for the red. His mercy is mirror-shattering. And I’m glad of that.

  3. Carmen says:

    This post really made me think. I definitely choose mercy. People tell me I’m compassionate. Sometimes I think people think that I’m blind, or afraid, or people pleasing – and maybe sometimes I do come from those areas. Yet, I would rather err on the side of mercy, than judgment-regardless of what people think.

    That said, I am still running the race; falling and getting up again; almost giving up and holding on tightly. That red pill is a rush! 😉

  4. Yes, red. It’s the right color…

  5. Cheri says:

    I’m taking the red pill! Thank you, Lori, for an incredible post!

    God bless,
    Cheri