Jesus Loves Pharisees (Too)

One of the greatest glories of the life of Christ is his great love for wicked, secular sinners. The prostitutes, lowlifes, and tax collectors all seemed to flock to him, and he cleansed and made them whole. After all, he taught us, it isn’t those who are well who need the physician, but those who are sick and broken.

In his story of the two sons, Jesus tells us of one such sinner. This young fellow shamed his family and lived the party life until he drained every drop of resources (Luke 15). But when he decided to come home we find out that his father was waiting for him. Indeed, this loving father ran to meet his wayward son and welcomed him home with grace before the sinner even had time to repent!

Jesus welcomes sinners in this same way. Wayward, lost, and blind, every sinner is welcomed in his bosom no matter how corroded their lives might be. This is what it means that he rescues and saves the lost.

But amazingly, Jesus also shines with another beam of glory, this one for those who do not stray (on the outside) far from home. In this same story, we read of an older brother who, it seems, out of sheer duty and grit, stayed with his dad for the duration. He was home with his father, but he was miserable and jealous. This misery and jealousy apparently did not spring forth it’s ugly head regularly (our will power can hold down our true feelings quite effectively), but in the story it most certainly does. He is the Pharisee who strained to uphold his end of the bargain with his father. He apparently wasn’t very close to the father, but regardless of that, he was the “good” son who did not purchase prostitutes or drink himself drunk.

This senior brother, so full of rage and jealousy at the return of his younger sinful brother, stood outside the house as the thumps of party music sprayed his angry heart from inside. His arms crossed, his teeth grinding, he mumbled and grumbled about this horrendous situation. He was full of self-righteousness and this fueled his jealousy to a high fever pitch. How dare his father shower grace on the “bad” brother! Why didn’t the “good” brother get a party like this!?!

But then the father walks outside. Notice carefully, the father does not forget about his older son. No, he goes out to him, just like he went out to the younger son earlier. He cares for and loves them both. He reaches out for the older brother too and invites him to come and join the party.

Now, the amazing thing about this story is that Jesus was telling it to a group that included Pharisees. I think we sometimes get the wrong impression that Jesus had no concern for the Pharisees at all. It seems to us that they were his archenemies, and he had nothing but hate for them. But you see, in Jesus’ story, he is stating to them that he wants them to come to the party too. In fact, have you ever wondered why the story doesn’t seem to end? It simply states that the father invited the son to come in, but does not tell us if he actually does or not. By ending the story in this way, Jesus was putting the ball into the court of the Pharisees. They were the older brother, burning with rage and self-righteous jealousy at the ministry of Jesus, but Jesus was inviting them to the Father’s party.

Tim Keller writes about this:

[Jesus] is not a Pharisee about Pharisees; he is not self-righteous about self-righteousness. Nor should we be. He not only loves the wild-living, free-spirited people, but also hardened religious people. (The Prodigal God)

That’s right! Jesus is not full of rage and jealousy against people who are enraged and jealous! He is not snooty to the snooty. In telling the story of the two sons in Luke 15, Jesus is actually holding his welcoming arms out to these religion-centered, duty-bound hypocrites, inviting them to come in the “house,” just like he invites the secular, wicked sinner (the prostitute, the meth addict, the homosexual, the thief, the murderer).

Amazingly, people often speak about highly religious people in horribly demeaning tones. “I can’t believe that church is KJV-only!” Or “Christians are such stupid hypocrites! I can’t believe how they look down their self-righteous noses at us who like to have a drink from time to time!” And so on. The incredible truth about these statements is that they come from the mouths of people who are being just as self-righteous and hypocritical as the people they are accusing! It takes a great deal of self-righteousness to demean someone for being self-righteous. The extreme parts of the homosexual community (for example) can exhibit self-righteousness to a very high degree in the process of pointing out the self-righteousness of conservative evangelicals. And most certainly it works the other way around too, when Christians rant against the sins of the homosexual.

What is the point? The point is that God the Father is throwing a party, and our focus should be on the Father and his wonderful party! The younger son finally learns this and comes inside the house. He learns that his father saves lost and blind people, puts his robe around them and his ring on their finger and invites them in. This is true not only for the wayward sinner, but also for the stoic religionist who thought he was doing everything right. Even if he is pouting on the porch!

Whoever you are (wild man or Pharisee), don’t stand on the porch. The party is inside.