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Sweetness just beneath the surface

By this time the crowd, unwieldy and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands. But Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples. He said to them, “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. (Luke 12:1-3)

Give people enough to "gawk" at and they will congregate quicker than ants on honey. I fondly refer to them as "looky-loos" - they are there for the "show", not really for much else. They come interested in what they might get, not in what they might give away. What draws a crowd? Isn't it the spectacular, the unexpected, and the unusual? Jesus was all of these things. Spectacular - dramatically daring as he went against the Pharisees and dared to challenge their "religiosity". Unexpected - surprising those who least expected his touch or care with the deepest expressions of his love. Unusual - shocking them with the extraordinary and the uncommon display of power, grace, and wisdom. He was a crowd "gatherer", but he was also a crowd "divider". The same things drawing many to him also set many against him. These spectacular, unexpected, and unusual things Jesus said and did got the dander of the Pharisees up. His disciples may have been drawn in by the same things, but in time, they came to understand him as those in the crowd did not and this was Jesus' greatest joy - someone looking past the spectacular, unexpected and unusual to connect with his heart.

Although the Pharisees were ever-present in the crowd, their intent was not to find the truth in what Jesus was saying, or to support the work he was doing. Their intent was to discredit, taking the attention away from the "good" he was doing and bringing some type of dishonor to him. Their main concern was the amount of attention he was getting and the little bit of attention they themselves were now attracting. To this end, Jesus calls the attention of his disciples to their actions - not so much because they were a real hindrance to his work, but because he wanted to protect the disciples from the "phoniness" of the Pharisees. They saw themselves as so spiritually mature - above the crowd in their pursuit of all things holy - educated above the rest, but really not all that wise. Jesus knew the shallowness of their "holiness" and his point in calling attention to them on this day was to simply point out the foolishness of trying to "appear" mature when you really are anything but mature.

I guess we could all kind of admit we have done this on occasion - trying to make ourselves look a little more "all together" and "spiritually mature" than we really are on the inside. It has been a common practice of putting forward some type of "rule-keeping" facade to make oneself look 'holy' and 'spiritually mature'. This type of "religious phoniness" is not going to get us anywhere in God's kingdom. I think this is why Jesus had such great concern for his disciples recognizing this up front. It would have been easy for them to get a little confused - seeing the example of the Pharisees as the "ultimate" experience when it comes to religion. It may be the ultimate experience when it comes to "religion", but not as it applies to relationship. Jesus' primary concern was, and always will be, for our relationship with him and his heavenly Father.

Look closely at some church-goers today and we might just find there are those who actually practice as modern day "Pharisees" - their lives are pretty shallow under the facades of the religion they sport with such pride. You can watch hours and hours of every teacher and preacher on the Christian television stations, but still be shallow. You can read author after author, ingesting all kinds of spiritual self-help books, but be devoid of any real learning. You can speak with all kinds of eloquence and still say nothing. The image is there, but the heart vault is empty. Relationship is the only thing which fills the heart vault! 

The warning to us is against the preoccupation with title, regulations, rules, and rituals. Sometimes we "sport" the title of "Christian" as though it gives us some special privilege or "import" to the world around us, all the while with empty "heart vaults". The heart vault is only filled through deep, lasting, and intimate relationship with the one who helps us move beyond the rules, focusing less on the rituals and more on the genuine sharing of our heart with him. You have probably heard the term "legalism" used in modern day churches. If so, what is being described is the modern day practice of Phariseeism. The pursuit of all the rules, but the lack of focus on the heart. The crowds are always drawn by the "show". The Pharisee delights in putting on the "show". The disciple delights in the "connection" created when you get past the "show". 

Jesus warns against being more concerned with the "show" and what you "know" - being aware of what you "experience" while nuzzled right up to his heart. Our heart vault is only filled when we nuzzle! You know what it means to "nuzzle"? Animals "nuzzle" while rooting for food. They have to push through a whole lot of inedible stuff before they get to the sweetness of what lies just beneath the surface. I think Jesus had this in mind when he was speaking with his disciples - getting past the stuff that hides the sweetness he desires for us to experience. I am thinking I'd rather engage in a little nuzzling to find the sweetness he has prepared than spend a whole lot of time protecting the image I could "prepare" for the world. I am in pursuit of that which fills the vault of my heart. Maybe we'd all do a little better if we "nuzzled" more and "masked" less. Just sayin!

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