Pharisees & tattoos

The word “Pharisee” is an historical relic from first century Israel, but it’s also church shorthand for self-righteous, holier-than-thou, Christian know-it-alls who constantly criticize others.  If you don’t look and act like them, you’re not doing religion right.

Animation character designs by Cedric Hohnstadt of the Pharisees for the video series "What's In The Bible?"
Animation character designs by Cedric Hohnstadt of the Pharisees for the video series “What’s In The Bible?”

Well, I don’t want religion, I want relationship… but I digress.

I once heard some men discussing the impropriety of young men wearing flip-flops and shorts to church.  They likewise were concerned about people drinking coffee in the worship center and guys wearing hats.  And, of course, they were very critical of tattoos and piercings.  I don’t have any tats, but I’ve thought about it.  Maybe something religious yet provocative, like Jesus flexing his biceps.  I’m open to suggestion.

The word Pharisee comes from a Greek word that means “set apart, separated.”  In the First Century, the Pharisees were Torah thumpers whose dress and demeanor were meant to separate them from ordinary Jewish believers.  They were aristocrats and scholars, esteemed for their high positions in the temple.  They had status and considered themselves super saints with a hotline to Yahweh.

The modern church has Pharisees, too, though they are harder to spot.  If only they wore phylacteries on their heads.  (Google “phylacteries” if you don’t get that joke.)  These days they likely wear sport jackets and neckties and frown on folks in t-shirts.  “We should wear our best at God’s house,” they may say.  God deserves our best, so I understand the logic, but I also have read 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The irony is that Scripture cuts both ways.  Does God applaud the old-fashioned notion of wearing your Sunday best?  Does He sneer at kids in hoodies?  I doubt it.  From the Lord’s perspective, a Brooks Brothers suit and a ratty flannel shirt have equal value.  It’s the heart under the garment that matters.  As for tattoos, God forbade the Hebrews from having them in Leviticus.  That command is not binding for modern believers but it may indicate our Father’s feelings about body art.  Do your own Biblical research and reach your own conclusion.  Nevertheless, God is no respecter of fashion.

I am reminded of one of my favorite passages in the Bible, the story sometimes referred to as the “widow’s mite” (Mark 12:41-44).  A poor old lady dropped a couple of pennies in the offering plate while the rich, sanctimonious people were making big donations.  Jesus explained to his disciples that the widow had given more than all the others because she gave all she had.  It was her humble generosity and sacrifice that impressed Jesus.  She likely was wearing rags.  We don’t know the rest of her story, but one day she will be a big deal in heaven because her spirit was in perfect harmony with the Lord.

Every believer must be careful not to have a Pharisee’s attitude.  You cannot know a person’s relationship with Jesus by looking at the clothing, tats or piercings.  Likewise, don’t assume someone is a pious, priggish, hypocrite because they dress like an undertaker.  Let God be the judge.  Meanwhile, love your neighbor as yourself.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:1-3