Yeast of the Pharisees (Room for Grace)

by Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne
Christianity can be built around isolating ourselves from evildoers and sinners, creating a community of religious piety and moral purity. Christianity tan also be built around joining with the broken sinners and evildoers of our world crying out to God, groaning for grace. Bath are magnetic and contagious.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable of two men praying in the temple. The Pharisee boasts of his religious devotion and moral obedience, thanking God he is not like other sinners. The tax collector, on the other hand, stands at a distance and dares not even look up to heaven. He beats his chest and pleads, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is he, not the Pharisee, who goes home justified before God (vv. 9-14).

The righteous "yeast of the Pharisees" is still infectious today, it attacks "liberal" and "conservative" Christians alike. Conservatives stand up and thank God they are not like the homosexuals, the Muslims, the liberals. Liberals stand up and thank God they are not like the war-makers, the yuppies, the conservatives. The causes are different, but the self-righteousness is the same.

Jesus did not came simply to make bad people good. Jesus came to bring dead people to life. We can be morally "pure" but devoid of any life, joy, or celebration. I have seen this in myself and in many people I know. For some, purity means that they not touch anything "secular." For others, it means eating only "organic" food. But if our commitments are not born out of relationship, if they are not liberating for bath oppressed and oppressor, and if they are not marked by raw, passionate love, then we do little more than flaunt out own purity by showing everyone else how dirty they are.

The infection of Pharisaic self-righteousness can lead us to think it our duty to rid the world of evildoers. But history shows that the more voraciously we try to root out evil by force, the more it escalates. The more passionately we love those who do violence, the more evil will diminish. This was true of the Christian martyrs, whose self-sacrificial love for their enemies converted many to the church.

Christianity has spread most rapidly when believers have suffered persecution without retaliating. Today, as our Christian nation claims to be rooting out evil with violence, it is no surprise that terrorist activity is escalating, and Muslims are less open to Christianity than they were a year ago. For every Muslim extremist killed, another is created.

The tax collector teaches us, as does Jesus, that his is a gospel for sick people, not righteous people. When we become aware of our own brokenness, we begin to see God's image in every human being, be they soldier or centurion, tax collector or stockbroker, zealot or anarchist. We judge less. We leave room for grace. We understand that no one is beyond redemption, including ourselves.

This article was first published in the July 1, 2004 issue of The Other Side, and was reprinted with permission of the author.

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is a founding member of The Simple Way faith community and author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.