Pharisaic Pride: On a Sunny Sabbath, a Good Apostle and Talmudic Judaism
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“He walked with God for three years and learned nothing, failed in everything!” The agitated little woman told the congregation during Sunday Class. She was speaking about the Apostle Peter. Correcting such an error with a short remark during the class would have been impossible; hence, I left the class immediately. Later, her profound error was explained to her.
Yet, what she said was remarkable because it pinpoints a common error among many Christians and of all Jews: the legislative trap. Jews claim to be redeemed by fulfilling the Mosaic Law, which makes them the Chosen People; however, the Law is impossible to fulfill as a whole. It was designated as a path to understanding the role of Grace. Yet, many Christians forget the gift of Grace and invent new laws and conditions for being redeemed.
There are many points illustrating why Talmudic Judaism—the type practiced by Pharisees and modern rabbis—so angered Jesus. Simply, it is an ongoing blasphemy. There is a small point regarding the Sabbath which is short and simple, but explains the recurrent mental acrobatics of those attempting to interpret the Bible for their own convenience and profit.
In Exodus chapter 20:8-11, we read: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Believing they are redeemed by Law, Jews are forced to obey this one. It is repeated in other places, so that they can’t claim it’s a scribe’s typo. But, what can one do? It’s not a comfy law. Sabbath is a free day, let’s eat and drink ‘cause tomorrow…
Honest people would read the whole Law, understand their own limitations as humans and ask for Grace. However, Pharisees are better, smarter, and prouder; they have all the good “er’s.” That means an interpretation of the Bible was expected from them, so that this law would become an enjoyable one. The whole interpretation of the Sabbath Laws is too long for this format, but one of its most fascinating points is related to the use of electricity. According to rabbis, turning electricity on or off is work, and thus prohibited. Are Bnei Barak and Jerusalem dark on Friday nights due to this? Of course not! Pre-set timers—called “Sabbath clocks”—are attached to all electric appliances, turning them on and off at the desired moment during the Sabbath. I can imagine some of my readers laughing at this moment, but the truth is that this is troubling. The cause for the turning on or off is a programmed action of the person itself. The work was the result of the person’s will, not of an independent device that decided by itself on the action. The person did decide that work would be performed in the Sabbath and programmed the machine, de facto turning it on and off during the Sabbath. The responsibility for this unlawful work is on the person. In this, they commit two faults: they work on Sabbath and they are dishonest with themselves and God.
Understanding this Pharisaic attitude, it is easy to appreciate Jesus in Matthew 23:1-4:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
And later in the same chapter:
23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
What about the abovementioned woman who blamed Apostle Peter? Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Obviously, Jesus does not agree with her or the Pharisaic interpretations of the Bible. Why did Jesus choose Peter?
The woman was right in one thing: Peter was clearly flawed, seeming to be the last among disciples. He was ignorant, speaking bad Aramaic with a heavy Galilean accent. He was impulsive, cutting a soldier’s ear in the heat of the moment. He was unreliable, falling asleep at the wrong moments. He made errors. He was the first to swear his faith, and the first to fail. He was one of us. Yet, “upon this rock I will build my church” said the Christ, referring to a church made of a communion of sinners who would be saints. He accepted our willing spirit, even though it is thwarted by weak flesh. Jesus was right. Peter proved to be loyal to the end. The fisherman carried his cross through the Vatican field and stumbled by the Circus of Caligula, near the Nero Killing Fields. There he was crucified upside down, the last detail being the result of his request. By refusing the privilege of being crucified in an erect position, he proved his understanding of being unworthy of Jesus. By this, he also proved having learned everything that matters.
What the Pharisees and that woman attempting to teach a Sunday class fail to understand is that we are not redeemed by God for our being worthy. We are saved by our recognizing that we are faulty humans—sinners—and by accepting His love and grace. Any other claim is just Pharisaic Pride and leads to an evil society.
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