Preaching the Pharisees: History, Liturgy, and Ethics
2019-05-09 - 18.10
Despite the advances in historical and exegetical work concerning Pharisees, preaching throughout the Christian world continues to depict Pharisees as epitomizing everything wrong with humanity: they are xenophobic, elitist, legalistic, money-loving, judgmental, hypocrites. Reasons for the continuation of such tropes include the failure of homiletical education, the structural problem of the homily or sermon as employing Pharisees as an efficient way of describing bad practices, gaps in ecclesiastical instruction on how to address the Pharisees, exegetical and homiletical resources that exacerbate rather than correct the problems, the basic inability of the homilists to hear their own stereotyping, and, most important, the text of the New Testament itself. Apologetics, such as claiming that the anti-Pharisaic polemics are conventional invective, that "the Jews do it too," or that there is confirmation of anti-Pharisaic attitudes in rabbinic literature are unhelpful: they miss the question of the audience of the proclamation, they miss the generic distinction between prophecy and Gospel, they are often anachronistic, and they ignore the fact that "everyone does it" is not good pedagogy. Approaches to improving preaching include better children's education, proactive corrections to the various homiletic resources presently available in print and on line, direct guidelines on what can be said regarding passages that depict Pharisees negatively, and the warning that words matter.