formation friday: our inner pharisee

blessed are the pure in heart

once in a while it’s fun to focus in on one topic longer than a post, and i am glad for the different responses to “healing the divides” week; if even one conversation or relationship could be different because of it, it was way worth it to me.  the other posts this week are: 8 ways those from more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions can better love each other, safer people make safer conversations, breaking down walls, and deeper dignified dialogue. i haven’t posted a formation friday (better known as formation saturdays) in quite a while but i thought it would be good to end this series with one.  formation fridays are about spiritual formation and reflection, ways to engage with God & our hearts in different ways that stir and move us.


i can’t tell you how many times i have pointed my finger toward people who i think embody some of the characteristics of the pharisees in the bible–people who judge, condemn, and feel like it’s their job to make sure everyone follows the law.  “they’re just like the pharisees” has rolled off my tongue far too many a time.  calling them hypocrites, pointing out their flaws, highlighting all of the ways they are somehow not consistent with Jesus’ ways is not that hard for me.

what’s much harder is to not judge them.

this week i thought of Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount. right before he highlighted focusing on the log in our own eye. he says, “do not judge, or you too will be judged. for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (matthew 7:1-2).

do not judge.

for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.

with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

i have been convicted over and over again how often i am just a reverse pharisee. what i mean by that is that i am judging them for judging others.

and as much as i’d like to justify it,  it’s exactly the same, and just as ugly.

as humans, we often have an inner pharisee, a part of us that loves to measure, critique, judge, and find ways to find-what’s-wrong-with-other-people-and-how-somehow-they’re-not-doing-what-we-think-they-are-supposed-to-be-doing.

we are good at noticing logs & lobbing stones.

it’s so easy to read the scriptures and see all of the places where Jesus is criticizing the pharisees and think “good for him, he really is letting them have it, and they deserve it!” but if i’m really honest, every time he is speaking to them, he is also speaking to me.  because in different ways, i do the same thing.  it might not be centered on the “God’s laws” but it is certainly centered on “my laws.”

i have some to believe that a big part of my inner pharisee is insecurity.

insecure people are the most judgmental kind. and it’s true, the more insecure i feel inside, the more likely i am to find a way to make myself feel better about myself somehow, some way.

our inner pharisee separates us from other people because it overtly and subtly assumes we are somehow “better” than others. we’ve got the goods and they don’t. we know what’s right, and they’re wrong.  we know what’s best, and they’re missing the point somehow.

secure, free people don’t need to feel better than others.

they can focus on love, not judgement. on mercy, not the law. on grace, not works.

i am continually convicted by my tendency to judge. to let my inner pharisee take over.

and every time i do, i create a bigger divide between me and whoever i’m judging.  judgement brings separation, not healing.  division, not restoration. hate, not love. brokenness, not wholeness.  insecurity, not security.

and it also creates a division in my heart toward myself.

it makes me think of what brennan manning said in the ragamuffin gospel:

“whenever I allow anything but tenderness and compassion to dictate my response to life–be it self-righteous anger, moralizing, defensiveness, the pressing need to change others…i am alienated from my true self. my identity as Abba’s child [a child of God] becomes ambiguous, tentative and confused.” 

a great way to heal the divides in our own hearts and in these tricky relationships and conversations  is to keep being honest about our inner pharisee. to recognize our spiritual poverty and desperate need for God’s help to become less judgmental and more tender & compassionate, less insecure & more free.

that’s my hope for us as individuals, as communities.

that’s what will help bring restoration and healing to this broken world.

so as we wrap this series and reflect on ways we can participate in healing the divides, here are a few prompts to consider:

  • God, my inner pharisee is especially judgmental toward….
  • it feels easy to judge them because….
  • but it’s harming me by….
  • i confess my judgement to you.  it’s not how i want to live. 
  • help me let go of…
  • and please help me remember…
  • thank you that you keep teaching me…

have a great weekend and see you monday for grief week, 5 days of experiential reflections to grieve church & faith shifts & other losses, too.

love and hope, kathy


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Oh I love this. I know someone who really needs to hear this.
    Just kidding. 😉
    The application part is so very wonderful and reminds me of steps 4/5.
    Maybe one day we’ll actually get to hang out!

  • I have a very real wrestle with what you are sayiing Kathy, for where I belive in what I think (I hope) it is that you are wanting to communicate, I can’t agree with never judging. I would however talk about the spirit in which judgement is done.

    I don’t know what version you are using of the Bilble Kathy. The RSV has it as ” “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” My understanding is that what Jesus is saying is in the principle of you reap what you sow. So if you judge you will be judged likewise. Not a direction not to judge as such. It comes after instructions to not worry. So pehaps there were people worrying about being judged and this being his engagement with them along the lines of don’t be concerned with what others do which you have no control over, but what you can do i.e. whether you judge or not.

    Had it not been for me having judged someone as having falsely prophesyed and shared that then I would have not had the respeonse I got on one occasion that went

    “Let me just say that the deception among many abusive leaders runs so deep
    it takes a miracle of grace for them to recognize, let alone acknowledge, that
    what they are doing is in no way representative of the kingdom of God. They
    truly don’t see it and are, for the most part, completely blind to the reality
    of what it is they are doing. As a former abuser, I ask your forgiveness. I used to be one of those who abused the sheep in the name of Jesus – even thought I was the
    prophetic arm of the Lord. Then that abuse was turned on me and I had first
    hand knowledge of just how twisted the ‘gospel’ had become in the hands of many
    who have been appointed to lead. It’s a very sobering thought to wake up one
    day and discover that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time
    misrepresenting the very One who held all power and authority – yet choose to
    rule by loving rather than ‘lording’”.

    So in having judged someone as having falsely prophesied, I confronted that person and having shared about my expereince, someone else had been given the opportunity to confess and find release and know forgiveness publically, that I prayed for her in that.

    If there has been any misunderstanding on my part from what you have communicated, I apologise. But I do need enebling and affirming to continue in the ways I have done that I know to be my duty in the Lord with fruit like above.

  • Thank you, Kathy. So many of us are influenced by your honesty, especially when you tackle the hard stuff. I’m sure you’ve got it right, about the insecurity. It keeps us from loving others just as they are, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, and/or others.
    I don’t like to picture Jesus on the cross, bleeding and in pain, but when I do I look into His eyes, and hear His gentle voice as He spoke about everyone who had it wrong, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” His TOTAL security in who He was, and Whose He was, allowed Him love us all through His ultimate sacrifice, for those of us who “get it” from time to time, and “miss it” more often than we’d like.
    You know I’m one of those who love the Word –Jesus in black & white…and red:-) and believe in a literal Heaven & Hell. Which means I believe we all have a common enemy as well, who loves it when we see each other as the enemy. Who can keep us distracted with minutia and highlight our differences, anything to shut down the conversation. I’m sure we’ve all noticed how uncool (bordering on
    dangerous) it is to say those things these days. I long for the security to be unafraid to proclaim my love for Him, and His Word, anywhere.
    I’m so thankful for your willingness to be transparent and helping us be brave enough to look at ourselves, and to keep striving love each other. xo~Deb

    • Hi Deb,

      I gunuinely am inteested and this is in no way any criticism of what you are saying, but out of a genuine desire for understanding knowing the Lord and a mutual building up in him.

      You mentioned Kathy getting it right about the insecurity keeping us from lovign people as they are and having the security to be unafraid to proclaim your love for him.

      We see Jesus in Gethemane, being anxious, afraid, insecure and his sweat being as drops of blood.

      Given that every livinb being has threar respeonses to situations or persuing, the flight or fight the fact that we do expereince insecurity and fear at times is a reminder that we have a pulse and are alive!

      So being brave then is not always about feeling confident, strong secure. Sometimes it is about feeling insecure, fearful and acting as if we did not feel that way. About facing the fear, in the most extreme case saying “death where is thy sting” by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The love that casts out all fear. And in that, we proclaim our love for Him and His word, in season or out, whether we feel confident and strong or whether we expereince fear and weakness. Whaen the apostle Paul was at his weakest, he was at his stongest. Jesus is King and servant. Such paradoxes pop up throughout scripture.

      I want to assure you with the words Jesus said to not be afraid and that you have everything in him to do as you wish by the power of the Spirit in God’s will. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of doing what you can do inthe Lord?

      I hope you found that helpful and building you up in the Lord and don’t resent my challenge, it has been don’t in Christ’s love.

  • To think clearly about this issue, I have to remove my thought process from the religious sphere. I think of my great uncle Ted, a handyman who considered himself an authority on all matters related to carpentry and building.
    We didn’t care how uncle Ted built his house, but uncle Ted was extremely opinionated on everyone else’s house, including ours. He insisted that we must add dormers on the back of the house. We didn’t want or need dormers, which provoked long lectures and rants from uncle Ted. Finally we had to avoid uncle Ted, and if we did run into him we had to avoid discussing carpentry at all costs.
    I do not concern myself with how others live or believe. However, there are those religious uncle Ted’s who are very agitated that the rest of us don’t live and believe as they think we should. Sadly, the only way to deal with many of these uncle Teds is to avoid them. Of course, it can be very entertaining to watch two “uncle Teds” get into a (heated) discussion with each other.

  • :i have some to believe that a big part of my inner pharisee is insecurity” Nuh Uhhh!! Oh, well, maybe. 🙂 I have been practicing lately being aware of things that irritate me in another, and how it is likely that there is the potential for something similar to reside in me. A-noi-yiiing. Three cheers for increasing one’s grace muscle? 🙂

  • I listened to a podcast this week in which the speaker used a story about a pharisee from the Bible. He said, “Pharisee is just another word for a pastor.” Ouch. The speaker is a pastor so it seemed a bit of a joke, but true so much of the time nonetheless. I know I can be a pharisee due to my insecurities. God help us!


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