Step 3. Realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven’t worked for it and don’t deserve it.
“Hi, my name is John, and I’m a Pharisee.” And this is when you’re all supposed to go, “Hi, John!” By that meaning that you realize you are Pharisees, too — that’s why we’re all here — and you are sort of welcoming me into the club. You’re also saying that you’re glad I made it to the meeting, because if I hadn’t made it to the meeting, it would most likely be because I was out “Phariseeing” somewhere. And what would it mean that I was “Phariseeing” somewhere? It would mean that I was out in the marketplace judging people, comparing myself with others, and being ungrateful and unmerciful.
Pharisees have no mercy. They have no mercy for others because they allow none for themselves. They are earning their way to heaven, after all, so there is no margin for error. If a Pharisee doesn’t get a break, you can be sure they won’t let anyone else have one either.
Pharisees are nit-picking their way through the law, reducing the law to a list of tedious, but doable, tasks or observances that enable them to separate themselves out from the crowd of common publicans and sinners. In the process of doing so, Pharisees miss the larger, more important issues of life like love and mercy. Jesus called it “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” If you have enough gnats to strain at, you don’t even notice the camels.
To a large degree, our style of church today — which keeps people busy on committees, in the choir, in the praise band, in the home group and in Sunday School, and all the meticulous details associated with keeping all of this machinery running — actually supplies the congregation with enough gnats to strain at so that no one has any time for the camels. This explains how you can be a serious, committed Christian with little love or mercy in your heart. Don’t look now, but you’ve become a Pharisee. Better get yourself to a PA meeting right away.
Mercy is something that every single one of us desperately needs. We need it because the real law of God is much more demanding in its perfection than the Pharisee version of it — so much so that no one can follow it. And if we fall short of the glory of God (which Romans 3:23 says we all do), then mercy is required to fill in the space between what God requires and what we can actually do. Mercy is a necessity — a prerequisite to knowing God. Without His mercy, we are consumed by His fire. But mercy comes only through the knowledge of one’s own sin — something the Pharisee is unaware of and unwilling to face.
Thus, a true Pharisee has no concept of mercy. To a Pharisee, mercy is cheap. Mercy is getting something without having to work for it, and when you’ve worked hard for something, and the next guy gets what you worked for by having it handed to him, well that doesn’t go over very well with you. You can’t possibly understand mercy until you experience your own need for it.
You can’t understand mercy without facing your own sin and utter depravity. Pharisees have too much at stake to risk doing that. They might lose their rank. So, until they do, mercy will be just a distant and undesirable concept.