(John 12:9-11, NIV)
We see this theme in the Gospels often, and in other parts of the New Testament as well, this tension between the Jewish authorities and Jesus and his followers. Sometimes those Jewish authorities are the chief priests, sometimes Sadducees, sometimes Pharisees, and sometimes persons referred to as scribes. These three verses in John are tucked between two major events. In chapter 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and then we hear that Jesus must go into hiding because the authorities were coming after him. The verses that follow in chapter 12 (beginning at John 12:12) describe the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem just before the Passover (Palm Sunday). The thing that struck me when reading these verses is that the people made a choice between following Jesus or following someone else. It seems to be the case that we always follow someone or something, somewhere.
Most Christians have a pretty good idea what it means to follow Jesus. At least most Christians have their own idea what it means to follow Jesus. But what about the Jewish authorities who appear jealous the people are leaving them and turning to Jesus? What did they have to offer? What does following Sadducees, Pharisees, priests, or scribes look like?
We can begin with the scribes. They are the ones who copy and publish and know the Law of Moses. They not only know the Law of Moses, they know how to interpret that Law and many of the nuances that go with it. People who followed the scribes found their righteousness in knowing the rules. There are some people that know the rules, so to speak, but don’t necessarily follow the rules. They like to focus on those who violate the written code since pointing out another’s fault makes one’s own fault(s) fade in comparison. Following Jesus means we follow a code of grace, forgiveness, love, mercy, and compassion. Jesus never nullifies the rules. He possesses complete mastery of those rules and complete knowledge of the Law of Moses, yet he is accused of treason. Among the scribes there seems to be no interest in the spirit of the Law, only the letter of the Law matters.
Second there are the priests, chief priests being the priests in charge of other priests. These would be the bishops and district superintendents of our day. People who put their faith and trust in priests generally know they cannot and do not fulfill the requirements of the Law. But they, for some reason, think priests have and “in” with God. Like they can go to God and work some deal on their behalf. Jesus’ claim to be God really messed with the priests because if true, this meant God is willing to relate to common people, all people. It would strip the priests of their power. But do the people really want to talk directly to God or would they rather have a go-between? This seems to boil down to a simple question: Do you really believe God loves you? If you do, you know God will be merciful and gracious, having demonstrated his mercy and grace many times before. If you don’t, then you might be more comfortable with someone else whom you think God might love speaking to God on your behalf.
The Sadducees are another interesting group. They tended to emphasize the Law of Moses and the laws of state while ignoring or completely dismissing the prophets. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. This meant life on earth is it for them. Death is a great motivator. What we accomplish in this life, we accomplish; there are no eternal consequences. Most people did not follow the Sadducees anyway. They are those over-educated college professor types who believe that anything that cannot be scientifically proven is simply not true. Our world is full of these people and many of our social norms are based on their beliefs. Yet while they don’t speak for the majority of people directly, indirectly people are forced to follow them in many respects because of their enormous indirect influence.
Finally, there are the Pharisees. Like the scribes, the Pharisees know the Law. Their thing is to sort through the Law and decide which parts to emphasize and which parts to ignore. Along with that, and closely related to that, they decide how the Law should be interpreted and applied. For example, Pharisees decide what remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy looks like. And how does one truly honor their mother and father? What about exceptions to dietary and sanitary laws? It’s easy to see why the majority of people follow the Pharisees and why the Pharisees were most often the mentioned in opposition to Jesus. They pandered to the majority of people who though certain laws and rules should be dismissed and de-emphasized while others, especially those that supported the status-quo and norms of the culture should be emphasized and enforced with vigor.
Hopefully, everyone reading this is a follower of Jesus first and foremost. But it does not hurt to consider these methods and tricks the enemy uses to get us off track. If you see yourself as a follower of any of these: scribes, priests, Sadducees, or Pharisees, do not despair. Simply turn slightly or completely, whatever it takes, and get back on track. Remember, Jesus is all about love, grace, mercy and compassion. And Jesus is the exact image and likeness of his Father. We have nothing to fear.