How do we judge others? Do we behave like the Pharisees, caught up in religious piety and feeding into modern idolatry?
John 7: 44-52
44 Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” 46 The officers answered, “ Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” 47 The Pharisees then answered them, “ You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) *said to them, 51 “ Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” 52 They answered him, “ You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”
This is one of those passages that makes me stop and think “ok, what is going on here?” After Jesus said, “if anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink,” the crowd stirred loudly. As the religious zealots showed up (aka the Pharisees), they started inquiring of the matter. It is starting to appear to me that the Pharisees were similar to religious guards. Many times in these stories when belief and faith is in question, especially when Jesus speaks, they send a squad of Pharisees to assess and control the situation.
The most intriguing part of today’s passage is what we find in the statement of the Pharisees in verses 48 and 49. 48 shows that if someone in charge doesn’t believe something, then the people of a lesser status should not believe it either. This is one of the reasons for separation of church and state! It makes one ponder the current situation in American politics today. The religious authorities of the day flat out proclaim that unless they or a ruler of the land advocates Jesus’ behavior, then nobody is allowed to believe in Him.
We also see here the judgment cast forth by the Pharisees that the crowd is cursed under the Law because they do not know it. I guess ignorance isn’t bliss, is it? How often do we judge others the same way? Because they don’t go to church or read the bible or anything else we do, it is not up to us to say they are wrong. We are not the judge (and neither were the Pharisees). In fact, Nicodemus calls them out. As you may recall, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, as we read in Born Again. He calls attention to the Pharisees as they are contradicting the very law that they are judging the crowd with. The Pharisees, however, prefer not to hear what Nicodemus has to say and move on to make sure that no prophet rises from Galilee.
As we saw earlier in John in What do You Believe and Why do you Believe it, the location that Jesus was from was not a favorable one. The people were stuck in the societal stigmas of social structure, class, deeds, and religious piety. Nicodemus, however, after his earlier encounter with Jesus and understanding the heart behind Jesus teachings and actions, started to understand that it isn’t about what we do, it’s about why we do it. He was calling out the Pharisees because they had no idea about Jesus or why He was doing what He was doing, rather they didn’t like that He was leading people away from the idolatry of religious piety.
How do you judge people? Do you judge them with the love of Jesus or with the law of your religion?