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Religious groups in Jesus’ day

August 1, 2016

Sometimes we think things were so different in Jesus’ day, but were they? Looking at the different religious groups that Jesus encountered in Palestine makes one realise that though they had different names, these groups are still alive and well.

The Pharisees were described as middle class—a drive by most church carparks on a Sunday morning would confirm the church in the West is mostly middle class. Yet being a Pharisee was more than economic standing, it was also about attitude. The Pharisees thought their good deeds were enough to make themselves right with God. They didn’t think they needed God’s grace and mercy. The Pharisees were the religious people of their day, and the church is the religious people of our day. Our reluctance to identify with them may be because Jesus had such harsh things to say to them. Yet Jesus died as much for the Pharisees as for the crowds. While we may prefer to identify with the crowds, even they stopped following him.

The Sadducees didn’t believe in divine intervention. Many today don’t believe that God would supernaturally intervene in the circumstances of someone’s life and bring comfort and healing. Sadducees believed we should not expect anything out of the ordinary from God. This attitude of not needing God and low-level faith is sadly present amongst many in our churches.

The Sanhedrin knew how to use their power for their own means. Unfortunately far too often a church leadership will cave into people like this because they express their opinions in an intimidating and domineering way. There are always people who love power and others who are happy to empower them, as it absolves them of the responsibility of making decisions.

Zealots these days don’t come in armed revolt, but we have those who are always ready for confrontation regardless of the opposition. I’ve heard it said that church meetings are boring if there is no heated debate! Some in our churches have an unhealthy interest in engaging in confrontation. Expressing tolerance is seen as a weakness, rather than as an opportunity to learn from others. Zealots though avoid any sign of vulnerability as if this were a shortcoming.

Essenes were the pacifists, and at the first sign of conflict they decide to stay away, much like those who stay home from church at the slightest sign of conflict. They are not prepared to express an opinion for fear others may disagree.

Which group do you most identify with?

by Susan Barnes
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Susan Barnes

~ writer of insightful posts about God and faith