When Religion Makes Us Mean

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. Mark 7:1-2

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” Matt. 9:11

And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him.  Mat. 12:10


Below came from an unknown source. I haven’t been able to trace the author of the writing but wanted others to read it and be blessed as I was.

Pointing FingerReligion is a powerful influence in human life but its effect varies widely. It does different things to different people. Take, for example, Saint Francis. While still a young man, he renounced his claim to a family fortune and took vows of poverty that he might serve the poor. But he is remembered as a happy man. One of his biographers said: “While other worked at sainthood, Francis played at it.” He preached to the birds and the animals. He sang to the moon and the sun. His name has become synonymous with love and kindness and generosity.

A couple of hundred years later, in Spain, we encounter a totally different kind of man. His name was Torquemada. He was the inquisitor-general of the country. His job was to track down and root out heresy. And he was good at it. In just a few years, more than two-thousand heretics were put to death.

Torquemada was a deeply religious man. But the World Book Encyclopedia says of him: “To this day, his name is often used to stand for wanton cruelty.” Two separate lives, as different as night and day. One was gentle and kind. The other was harsh and cruel. And each of them was shaped by religion.

We see the same contrast in today’s Gospel. Jesus is warm and loving. His first concern is for human needs and how to meet them.  The Pharisees are harsh and rigid. Their chief concern is keeping the Sabbath day and seeking to it that others do the same. If the disciples go hungry and a man with a deformed hand is unhealed, so be it.  The important thing is that the Sabbath not be violated.  If this requires people to suffer needlessly, then they will just have to suffer.

That is clearly mean-spirited attitude. And it was motivated by a deep religious devotion.

The worst thing about this kind of meanness is that we almost never know that we are mean.

religion & meanessI can assure you that those Pharisees did not think of themselves as mean. That was the farthest thought from their minds. They regarded themselves as defenders of the faith.  They were the advocates of civic righteousness.  The observance of this commandment had bonded them together and kept them distinct throughout their exile in Babylon.  To give it up would be a denial of their history and heritage. So these Pharisees saw themselves, not as mean people, but as patriots.  They were defenders of the faith and champions of the nations.

That sounds noble, but it is a dangerous thing. It is always dangerous when causes become more important than people. From there it is but one short step to cruelty. And the bad part of it is we do not even know that we are cruel.  The Spanish inquisitor, Torquemada, has been dead for centuries. But if he could come back today, he would be astounded to know that his name has become a synonym for cruelty.  When he killed all those heretics, he was not being mean.  He was just a true believer, defending the faith of the church.

We can see this contradiction in others.  It is much difficult to see it in ourselves.  We can rationalize almost anything to put ourselves in favorable light.  Others may be cruel.  But we are simply doing what has to be done for the good of the cause.  Every mean-spirited person who ever lived has rationalized his deeds with some such argument.  In matter of religion, we can be mean and not even know it, because we call it something else.

Consider one other thought: When religion makes us mean, it is an indication of confused values.

We are making something more important that it really is. And we are making people less important that they really are.  This was clearly the case with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. They may have cared that the disciples needed food.  They may have cared that the man had a withered hand.  But they were more concerned that the Sabbath be kept inviolate.  It was all a question of priorities.  Which are more important, real people and their real needs or the proper observance of a holy day? Jesus came down on the side of human need.  The Pharisees were more concerned with guarding the Sabbath and keeping it prim and proper.

You and I have to take a position in that dispute.  We must align ourselves, either with Jesus, or the Pharisees.  Our point of contention will no longer be the Sabbath.  We have moved on to other concerns.  It may be some political positions, or some financial objective.  But if we regard anything as more sacred than people, we will end up doing something mean.  And we will do it in the name of righteousness.  We will convince ourselves that God is on our side and  my friends that is a mistaken conclusion.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The God that has been revealed in Christ is wholeheartedly dedicated to one thing – real people and their real needs.  They are more important to him than sacred days, or sacred books, or sacred sites, or sacred anythings.

The New Testament makes it clear that one thing was supremely sacred to Jesus.  And that one was a person, any person and every person.  When religion makes us mean to people, we can be sure of this: It is not the religion of Jesus.

Bro. Bill