I was talking with a friend and coworker yesterday morning about Jesus’ interactions with people, particularly in the first several chapters of Mark’s Gospel.
In Mark 3:1-2, Jesus is in the synagogue and in walks a man with a deformed hand. Mark records that “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” They are the Pharisees. Pharisees are easy targets for us in the 21st century because that’s who Jesus got after.
The not-so-obvious irony in wanting to join Jesus in this crusade against self-righteous legalists who impose slavish expectations on people is that we, yes we, are all too often the self-righteous. As Andy Stanley said recently, “The self-righteous are rarely self-aware.” I am not really concerned what you think about Andy; the statement is true. If you disagree you’re just proving the point.
But what my colleague and I discussed was the fact that the Pharisees watched Jesus, not to discern what the Lord might be doing in Him or through Him, but to accuse Him. They were, in pious posture, rooting for Jesus to fail, to trip up, to finally fulfill the expectations they’d had for Him all along so that they might, well, win. Self-righteous people want to win. They have to win.
And if we aren’t self-aware we too will keep tabs on people in hopes they’ll fall. We will want to have our suspicions confirmed rather than work for the good of the person(s) and others around us.
Down in verse 5, Jesus is both angry and grieved by their hardness of heart. Jesus sees straight through them, into their shadowy hearts where the light of grace has yet to take up residence. And the Pharisees go out to the Herodians in hopes of finding someone to agree with them.
When you find yourself looking for accomplices in your self-righteous scheming, you’re one step away from shouting, “Crucify Him!” All under the guise of righteous motivation.