One group of folks in the New Testament who had an extremely high opinion of themselves were the Pharisees. These religious leaders were good at seeing the sin in others, but somehow oblivious to their own sins. And so one day when a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to have dinner at his house, it provided a teachable moment of such significance that it ended up being recorded in the Bible.
You see, this event in the earthly ministry of Jesus actually helps to diagnose "the Pharisee in all of us."
"When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them." (Luke 7:37,38)
It is obvious from the text that Jesus welcomed this woman's adoration and love. In fact, the Lord went on to commend her for both her manner and her motives. Simon, on the other hand, took issue with the interaction between this woman and Jesus.
"When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39)
What a stunning display of arrogance and audacity! And yet the unpleasant truth of the matter is that there is at least "a little Pharisee" in all of us.
"Prove it," you say. OK. If you are open to a little self-examination, then feel free to administer this test by asking yourself these 5 questions:
1) Is there any category of people who are "bigger sinners" than me?
2) Does the story of Simon the Pharisee have relevance for others, but not so much for myself?
3) When Scripture identifies examples of sin, do I tend to think about the sins of others rather than my own sin?
4) Is there anyone I am mad at right now who needs to change more than I do?
5) Would I be shocked to see Jesus accept certain sinners if they came to Him in repentance and faith?
If you answered "Yes" to one of these questions, then you have identified "a little Pharisee" in you. And if you answered "Yes" to more than one question, then the Pharisee in you is probably a lot more active than you realize.
So is there hope for us, even in the midst of pharisaical tendencies? Of course. Just look at the woman who came to Jesus that day. The Lord declared that "her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47)
What about you? How many of your sins has the Lord washed away over the years? Do you love Jesus much, or little? Perhaps you have never experienced love for Jesus after first having your sins forgiven through faith in the Messiah. Spiritual conversion involves turning away from sin and turning toward Christ in sincerity and truth.
The apostle Paul described repentance and "godly sorrow" this way: "See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done." (2 Cor. 7:11)
Godly sorrow is what the woman was experiencing as she wept at the feet of Jesus. Meanwhile, Simon had no such sorrow for his pompous attitude and his judgmental spirit. Rather than weeping over his own sins, he smugly looked down on this woman and even questioned the legitimacy of the Savior's ministry. It's a perfect example of what pride does to the human heart. It makes Pharisees out of all of us.
Whenever you or I, like Simon the Pharisee, are self-righteous, we tend to see the sin in others but not in ourself. On the other hand, when we are like the woman in the story, we bring our sin to Jesus in a spirit of repentance, humility, and gratitude. And if that describes your heart today, you are probably spending little if any time focusing on the sins of others. After all, you have more than enough on your plate confronting and confessing your own sins.
Jesus said to the woman that day, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:48) And then the Lord told her: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50)
If we will learn from this woman's humble heart, we too can know that our sins are forgiven and that the Lord has saved us through faith. But once forgiven, we must continue to be on guard against our pharisaical tendencies. These self-righteous attitudes can come out at a moment's notice and when we least expect it.
Good thing for us that Jesus is a friend of sinners.