Acting Christians

The Gospels tell a fascinating story. We could think of them as scripts for a play. They’ve provided the scripts for many plays and films, so why not?  They have such a range of colourful characters.

Consider the Sadducees – men of power and authority with all the deviousness that we associate with the worst kind of bosses and politicians.  There was little that they wouldn’t stoop to if they felt their hold on power was under threat. They held the leading offices of the priesthood – but that didn’t stop them from being, deceitful, malicious and cruel.

Consider the Pharisees. They were fastidious in their piety, scrupulously correct in their religious observance, and confident in their purity. They were strong on doctrine, but they were keen to point out other people’s errors and failures. They were quick to condemn anyone who fell short of their rigid standards. They were judgemental, self-righteous, and intolerant.

Consider the disciples.  They misunderstood Jesus again and again.  When mothers brought their children to be blessed by Jesus, they turned them away.  They reproved a man who was performing exorcism in the name of Jesus, though Jesus didn’t agree with their judgement.  They were inclined to be intolerant towards the Samaritans and other foreigners.  They were constantly confused by the things Jesus said and did.  However, with the exception of Judas, they were faithful to Jesus right to the end.

Consider Jesus. Even people in his local community regarded him as a blasphemer, but the Jerusalem authorities had no doubt on that score. He blatantly flouted social standards by freely associating with disreputable people, such as tax collectors (known to be cheaters and traitors). He was seen talking with immoral women, and refused to condemn one woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. He was casual about law breaking, even flouting the fourth Commandment. He was careless about ritual cleanliness, daring to touch diseased people and even, on a couple of occasions, dead bodies. What’s more, he associated with foreigners and Samaritans. Scandalous!

Jesus and the Pharisees can easily be seen as natural enemies, but there was a lot that could have brought them together.  In fact, several Pharisees allied themselves to Jesus in New Testament stories.  That’s not so strange because, doctrinally, they had a lot in common.  That’s why, even today, it may not be easy to distinguish between people who have the “right” beliefs and those who have genuine, life enhancing faith. But Jesus told us how to tell the difference – he looked for “fruit”, that is, he expected a difference in their attitudes and behaviour. He watched the way they acted.

There are many more actors in the New Testament story, but these examples offer a wide variety of roles for us to choose our part in the play.  As Christians, do we want to be like the power loving Sadducees?  Or do we fancy playing the part of the oh-so-righteous Pharisees?  We may aspire to be like the Disciples, despite their doubts and hesitancy.  If, on the other hand, we want to be like Jesus, are we ready to adopt his social attitudes?  Do we want to champion the outsiders, just as he did?  Are we prepared to accept and associate with the disreputable, the poor, the outcasts, and other people who society condemns?

Which role will we choose for ourselves in this epic play?  Choose quickly, because someone else may already be selecting a part for us.  If we’ve served them with kindness, mercy, and respect they may recognise us as followers of Jesus.  But they may have cast us in the role that many people see as typical of the Church – as the self-righteous, intolerant, nit-picking, judgemental Pharisees.

What can we do to change their mind?

© Derrick Phillips 2023

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