How are Pharisees at making adjustments?
Typically, Pharisees, the ones with the most hard-shelled spirituality are not very willing to modify their ideas on the fly. They tend to be more brittle than flexible in their faith. This inflexibility has a name. It’s uh, umm… oh yeah; it’s called “Religion!” And since the Pharisees are the same “yesterday, today, and forever,” we should all be on the lookout for this tendency to dig our heels in and refuse to bend.
They had their orders – as they understood them – and that was it! They even had most of them memorized, categorized, simonized. They knew what they knew and weren’t planning on learning anything new about what they knew. They were adamant about what God required, what the Messiah was going to look like, and where they would rate with him when he arrived. Jesus blew the doors off their preconceived notions when he didn’t think, speak, or act like a good little Messiah was supposed to. Most of them just couldn’t adjust, and what’s more they were proud of it. But there were a few who were willing to adjust…
Nicodemous was a Pharisee (John 3) modest enough to inquire – how would one gain entrance into God’s realm, what’s this about being “born again,” and how does that work exactly on an anatomical level? Jesus’ response might be the Bible’s most poignant statement about flexible adjustment making: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I’m partial to the Message Bible on this one: “You know how the wind blows this way and that, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone born from above, by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” If we’re genuinely born of the Spirit, we will become more and more like the Spirit – as unpredictable as the wind.
Another Pharisee named Paul had an even bigger adjustment to make in order to become a Jesus follower. He thought previously that Jesus was a malevolent cult leader, and since he couldn’t get to Jesus directly, he’d silence his disciples.
Surprised From his rear end on the hard roadbed he asked, “Who are you Lord?” He didn’t say, “You’re not Jesus, because he’s dead;” or, “You’re not the Christ, because you don’t act like it.” In the duress of a brilliant beam from heaven, losing his sight, and hearing a voice, he was willing to adjust, “Okay, okay, tell me again, who are you exactly?”
Peter, another Pharisee at heart, was on his friend’s roof praying, when in a vision, a sheet appeared filled with a bunch of non-kosher animals. When a voice called him by name, at first he was probably gratified that God knew his name and had something on his mind for him to do. If you recall, Jesus sometimes had an awful time getting a word in edgewise when Peter was near. He always had answers to questions know one was asking. He was the kid in the class that never raised his hand before blurting out whatever came to mind.
“Rise, Peter, and kill…” Again, interrupting, and being a good Jew, this also would’ve sounded pretty good to him. “Kill them? Absolutely, Lord, these animals deserve to die, and I’m happy to kill them for you!”
“… and eat!” the voice continued. “Yes, Lord… Wait! What? No, Lord!” It’s not good for a transmission to go from drive to reverse like that, to say nothing of the whiplash to Peter’s neck.There’s no way that God would ask Peter to eat un-kosher – was there?
Can you imagine anything more oxymoronic than those last two words placed adjacent to each other like that (“No, Lord!”)? I mean, if he’s actually “Lord,” then how nonsensical is it for us to say “No” to him? It’s pretty hard, in good conscience, to call him “Lord” at the same time you’re saying, “No” to him. On the other hand, I like Ezekiel’s reply to God’s question, “Will these bones live again?” He said, “You know, Lord.” You see the contrast, right?Peter said, “No, Lord” and the prophet said, “You know, Lord.” Which one of those is most ready to make adjustments to life’s surprises?
Anyway, eventually Peter, after three visions, three voices, and three Gentiles knocking at the door, got the point and made the adjustment to carry out his bewildering heavenly orders to go Gentile food with Gentile hosts. Even the most Pharisaical at heart can learn to adjust. I’m praying for a few right now.
A few more people in the Bible who were willing to make adjustments…
“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken!” says my old missionary friend. Flexibility, even in my limited and temporary overseas missionary experiences, has made the difference between a great experience and an awful one. No matter how much you pray, plan, and do reconnaissance, you’re always going to be surprised by what you encounter in a culture that’s not your own. The things you intended to do are all up for grabs, and you’ll have to be on your toes to adapt to whatever comes your way on any given day. If you’re brittle you’ll break. I think we should all be living our lives as though we’re on a life-long missions trip, “prepared in season and out of season” to make adjustments for any eventuality.
Here are a few more of the Father’s flexible followers…
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said to Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God can deliver us from your furnace, but if he doesn’t…” I’ve always been impressed by their ability to adapt to whatever God decided to do. Their conviction didn’t change with whatever the outcome. They weren’t going to worship at anyone else’s altar under any circumstances. But they were ready to adapt to whatever God did or didn’t do, and trust him anyway.
Job said, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him,” which to my mindis the epitome of a flexible faith. His wife, on the other hand, had a faith that was more flimsy than flexible, “Curse God and die,” she insisted. She couldn’t make the adjustment to God’s apparent non-intervention decision. “If this is the way God treats his friends, we might as well be his enemies… Let’s find a better God.” Job didn’t understand God’s plan any better than his wife did, but he was willing to make the adjustment to things turning out in a way other than what he’d hoped.
John the Baptist had to adjust his expectation that Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah. Things weren’t progressing the way he’d expected when he asked, “Are the one, or should we wait from another?” At least he was willing to ask the question that was in the minds of all his peers. He was the only one in the class with the courage to ask the risky questions. Everybody laughs, but they are secretly glad someone had the guts to ask.
They all expected the Messiah to arrive, but Jesus didn’t fit all the criteria they had in their minds.
“Political agenda?… Political agenda?”
“Umm; not really, no.”
“Plans to destroy the Romans?”
“I, uh… No, I don’t think so.”
“Hmm, probably not our guy!”
But John was willing to ask, “Are you, or are you not our guy?” And if he was, he was willing to make an adjustment in his thinking about how “our guy” was supposed to look. Are you?