Eugene Cho

i am a pharisee

Don’t read the full post yet. First, take look at the above piece of art and share your thoughts:

  • What do you see?
  • How do you interpret this art?
  • How do you feel about this?

For me (as a “minister”), it is sobering to consider how we as “professional clergy” might – for various reasons – may have missed important aspects of what Christ desires us to see, know, and experience.  I look at the art and wonder, “Are we the blind leading the seeking?”

The turning point for me came through an epiphany couple years ago.

I’ve come to realize – not in a self-deprecating way – that as much as I have tried NOT to be…

I AM a Pharisee.

The difference – from moi – and from the Pharisees of the Scriptures – is that I acknowledge and celebrate my need for Jesus and to be regularly informed and transformed by not only the Scriptures, traditions, but the living presence and power of Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, it leads me to be a worshipper of the Triune God.

Yet, as much as I seek to avoid the common traps, it’s so easy to gravitate towards laws, bylaws, rules, behavior, buildings, money, personal fame, and the like. This is why I read this often:

to remind myself that God is actually talking to ME even though I’d like to often think it’s about YOU.

And this is why I choose to live by Grace.

Because any other path will lead us away from the personal Truth of Christ.

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Artist: Michael Belk

Artist description:

By the time Jesus began his ministry in the early days of the First Century, the Pharisees, who were the religious elite of that time, had interpreted the Jewish law by adding many of their own rules. There were so many do’s and don’ts that religious life had become a burden to the Jewish people.

There are many in our religious communities, like the Pharisees of old, who have allowed the process of religion to overcome the purpose of Christ. Jesus referred to these people as the “blind leading the blind” and said they would “fall into a ditch.”

In all aspect of life, but especially in knowing the truth of God, its our responsibility to sift through the clutter of religious practices that may be getting in the way of seeking a relationship with Christ.

After all, Jesus did not come to start a religion; He came to testify to the truth of God and offer a revolutionary new way of living out God’s plan.

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16 Responses

  1. your friend says:

    I immediately noticed how neat and clean the pharisees were and Jesus clothes showed his active work among people, a man who gets his hands dirty during practical ministry.

    There was a hint of hierachy in the picture, except the child and Jesus.

    I also noticed the innocence of the child, who looked up the his elders, and I pondered upon the awesome responsibility we have as we are examples, we ALWAYS model SOMETHING to kids, good or bad.

    I was especially impressed by the artist how he managed to portray Jesus’ face and statue as non-condemnational! This is a picture of Jesus expressing GRACE. Beautiful.

  2. Chris says:

    Hey Eugene,

    Great post! Just wanted to let you know that the link towards the bottom of the post is broken.

  3. TIC says:

    When I realized that I was a Pharisee a great book came my way about grace: Grace in Practice by Paul Zahl. One could call him a grace extremist. We need to be grace extremists since our proclivities toward Law are so strong.

  4. Deb says:

    Besides the look of innocence of the child as well as his look of seeming to be asking for something, anything, from the adults in the picture, I am struck too by how similar his appearance is to Jesus, in contrast to the other people. Am I looking to Jesus, as my example? Is that my desire, to look like Him? And to look past all the “noise” around me, to see His truth and follow Him?

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eugene Cho. Eugene Cho said: The turning point in my life was coming to terms that I AM A PHARISEE: http://bit.ly/9vbi9Z […]

  6. Steven Kim says:

    I see and appreciate where you are going with this, but is the term “Pharisee” the right word? Are you, or were you an “Offspring of Vipers”, as John the Baptist put it?

    I think we need to be careful as to not paint the clergy (since you are one and are being self-deprecating, IMO) as being the pharisees of today – your view can easily color the good character of many clergy and stigmatizes the learned clergy. I come from the Charles and John Wesley tradition 🙂

  7. jchenwa says:

    Just my thoughts, in Luke 12, the yeast of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. Jesus is shown as a regular guy in the art, yet He was the purest of the pure, the Lamb of GOD. Although we are children of GOD, we still make mistakes, we are all hypocrites. We’re no better than the non-believer, yet some among us roll holy. I’m a Pharisee sometimes too.

  8. nadine.w says:

    Good stuff! Definitely processing it and asking God to show me how this applies to me…

  9. Following directions and looking at the picture first, it makes me feel disappointed. It’s like we adults are walking the wrong direction down a hallway, dragging the kid behind us who see’s the direction we should go. Jesus is even standing there looking at us like, “guys, I’m over here. Come this way”, instead, we’re literally blindly following a book that we ironically can’t read because of our blindfolds.

    Powerful image.

  10. matt says:

    I guess when I look at this I wonder if Jesus meant to come and re-establish a new clergy/laity system at all or if he had a more radical idea and we keep falling into the same old patterns.

    You will be for me a kingdom of priests…not a kingdom with priests. Ex 19-6

  11. Larry says:

    I get the point of the piece. Certainly leaders of God’s people in every age can be the blind leading the blind. Yet the piece in choosing to represent leaders only in traditional liturgical garb, exempts the pastor in the business suit or casual garb. I see a not so subtle polemic against Reformed and Catholic leadership. Not saying they should be exempt but what the image is trying to convey isn’t about a particular form of faith but the human condition when it gains leadership. Like much of this artists work it is heavy handed in ways that I think distorts the truth the artist wishes to portray.

  12. Larry says:

    The artist and we also forget that while the negative connotation of “Pharisee” as a certain accuracy, Jesus was himself of the pharisee “sect” grouping, “denomination” within 1st century Judaism.
    We are all pharisees, the sooner all Christians realize that the better. You don’t have to fall into blatant hypocrisy to be a “pharisee”, the Pharisee’s were trying to restore and rehabilitate the people of God who had fallen away from the Torah. If God’s plan hadn’t been for the incarnation and Jesus Christ being the Torah and fulfilling the Torah, the Pharisees would have been correct. And not all of them were the Blind leading the blind.

  13. stephen says:

    Hey Eugene! Thanks for this post! it’s so easy as a pastor to point the finger at people playing Pharisee, who judge movements of the Spirit as risky or persecute ministry peeps who are following where they believe Christ leads them. Just had a conversation last week with a guy who plainly defended actions against a minister who was “eating with sinners…” My conclusion? He’s a Pharisee! But your conclusion came at a great time, preventing me to the same kind of dumb judgmentalism – instead, the conversation will continue in humility!
    Thanks for your transparency, let the reconciliation continue~

  14. As a pastor, i am by definition a walking target and subject to corruption. Powerful piece of art, it depicts at a glance what we would write papers about. This is why creativity is increasingly present in the western church. We should nurture it and walking as the child in the picture we can look at Jesus with seeing eyes.

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#TamirRice Incredible news: @onedayswages is projecting to have our most impactful year as we grant out $1.3 million dollars! Thank you so much for your prayers and support...please read on to learn how you can join in our work.

As you gather with family, friends, and loved ones for Thanksgiving and the holidays, I wanted to share an opportunity. Often times, when I speak to people about the privilege of generosity, I remind them, "You don't have to but you get to." It's so true.

My wife and I (and our three kids) started ODW in 2009. We felt the Holy Spirit convicting us to give up our year's salary. It wasn't an easy thing to say "Yes" or "Amen" to but we made the decision to obey. As a result, it took us about three years to save, simplify, and sell off things we didn't need.

It's been an incredible journey as we've learned so much about the heart of God and God's love for the hurting and vulnerable around the world - particularly those living in extreme poverty. ODW is a small, scrappy, grassroots organization (with just 3 full-time employees) but since our launch, we've raised nearly $6 million dollars to help those living in extreme poverty: clean water and sanitation, education, maternal health, human trafficking, refugee crisis, hunger, and the list goes on and on.

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@onedayswages Grateful. Still reflecting on the letters that I've received from classmates and students that have come before me and after me. Never imagined all that God would have in store for me. Lots of humbling things but in the midst of them, there were literally thousands upon thousands of daily decisions and choices to be faithful. That's what matters. Seen or unseen. Noticed or unnoticed. You do your best and sometimes you stumble and fumble along but nevertheless, seeking to be faithful.

Also, you know you're getting old when your school honors you with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Lol. 47 is the new 27. Or something like that. Here's to the next 47. In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

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