Last night, one of my little boys asked what a Pharisee was, and one of his big brothers answered.
"The Pharisees are the bad guys."
Good guess... but no. The Pharisees were the Bible teachers.
"Okay, yeah, but they were the bad teachers."
Another excellent guess... but no.
The Pharisees were most definitely the good guys.
Jesus has some very hard words for the good guys.
And some of the good guys were willing to listen to those hard teachings. They sat at Jesus' feet alongside the crooks and the prostitutes, welcoming Jesus as their king and their God.
But just as most of the bad guys wanted to go on being bad, most of the good guys just wanted to go on being better than the bad guys.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, like a dying grain of wheat, and Jesus has hard things to say to all of us.
Given that the world is so full of bad guys committing acts of unspeakable brutality, perhaps it was rather offensive of President Obama to mention the crimes of our own people during his prayer breakfast remarks.
But it was just as offensive in Jesus' day, and in Paul's. Then, as now, the bad guys were engaging in murder and torture, burnings, crucifixions and large scale mass infanticides.
But even then--and even now--Jesus has challenging words for the good guys, too.
If the crusades were less brutal
than they might have been, it is precisely because careful self-examination is woven into our heritage as Christians. We must not allow fear to induce us to abandon the great tradition of acknowledging our enemies' shared humanity, and our own shared capacity for evil.
The violence of others presents us with the twin temptations of apathy and imitation. It is wrong to stand by and give tacit permission to injustice. It is also wrong to follow our enemies in the ways of inhumane brutality.
There are no easy answers. Disagreement is inevitable, and probably needful. But however we respond to evil, we must do so carefully, prayerfully, and with eyes wide open to the many dangerous traps around us.
"...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Kenny: a sonnet from Ordinary Saints
22 hours ago