Experts and Gatekeepers
Anyone familiar with the biblical Jesus would know that the Son of God wasn’t just a nice guy who went around brightening up everyone’s day. At times, he could seem brazenly confrontational, calling out people and things that he was determined to expose.
In a recent reading of the Gospel of Luke, I came across an account of when Jesus was invited to eat with the Pharisees (Luke 11:37-54). Even as a guest, he didn’t hold back on his criticisms against the religious leaders. I’m not sure if they ever got around to much dining, but by the end of the meal, the Nazarene had undoubtedly served up a full course of terrible woes unto his hosts.
The unrelenting string of attacks concluded as follows:
“What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the kingdom yourselves, and yet you also prevent others from entering.”
— Luke 11:52 (NLT)
This insightful verse caught my attention. It led me to think about the nature of the Pharisees and their associates of law, as well as the detrimental impact they had on others.
Below, I would like to highlight some of my observations from wrestling with the topic, and draw connections to a few relevant trends taking place in our present culture.
In every field and discipline, our society looks to the opinion of experts. Ideally, these experts would inform and advise with wisdom as they point people to the direction of reliable facts and sound logic. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in reality.
We have all had the experience of listening to pundits on TV and realising that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Worse than being let down by inadequacy, we may even be manipulated if not careful. Such is the tragedy with the media, and the so-called “experts” that they often promote.
The religious law experts in first-century Israel acted in a similar fashion. Alongside the influence of the Pharisees, they formed the mainstream, authoritative voice in all matters related to the worship of God. Yet instead of helping people find spiritual comfort and unity, they used their platform to mislead and control the population, spreading what we may very well identify as fake news.
The malicious intent is clearly seen in the excess of lawmaking. Biblical scholars estimate, for example, that the Pharisees had added over 600 regulations regarding what qualified as “working” on the Sabbath. Rather than enjoying healthy rest and fellowship on a day set apart for godly recuperation, those caught under such demands must have expended an immeasurable amount of energy just to remember the tasks that they were told to refrain from performing. Their normal work was probably way less stressful by comparison. How sad and ironic!
Alas, this forced legalism granted no peace for any soul, no harmony with God. The overabundance of expert instruction only served to confuse the masses into a cycle of suffocating ignorance. Jesus spoke truth, therefore, when he accused the deceivers of removing the key to knowledge from the people. Thankfully, the Saviour had also revealed a direct escape to freedom:
“Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, the burden I give you is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
Jesus wanted the people to trust in him for bridging the gap between humanity’s sinfulness and God’s holiness — a total contrast to the problematic yoke of Pharisaic self-righteousness and to the heavy burden of endless law-keeping. Applicable to all Christians, may we allow him to clear our minds from deception and renew our souls from oppression.
For it is often worth ditching the propositions of numerous experts in order to hear the gentle voice of one Good Shepherd.
Gatekeeping is a common issue in the world today. Within the context of modern culture, the term has less to do with guarding a physical gate than determining whether or not someone has access or rights to a community or identity.
Sometimes, gatekeeping may be wise and necessary. As advocates of gender fluidity assert their political influence, for example, we are seeing cases where men who identify as women (however loosely) encroach upon spaces designed exclusively for female use, including locker rooms and public bathrooms. In this instance, reintroducing a level of stringency would be helpful in protecting the safety and privacy of vulnerable girls.
Concerns of fairness have also risen in regard to witnessing biological males given access to compete in various women’s sports, and subsequently obliterating records held by female-born athletes. This is yet another trend that justifies a call to uphold reasonable distinctions and limitations on gender identity and related gender-specific rights.
On the other hand, gatekeeping may be more than ludicrous. Accusations of cultural appropriation regularly fall under this category. In recent years, we have seen liberal progressives take offense at how people dress up during festivities and special occasions, even if their costumes were put together with love and admiration for another culture. It is regrettable that we have allowed these overzealous leftists twist healthy appreciation into something dirty, which has caused much needless tension and segregation between different racial groups.
Adding insult to injury, those that endorse this insidious brand of gatekeeping are mainly white folks who are upset on behalf of others. They are the dreary, self-appointed culture police that go as far as to condemn people of colour for not being offended in the same manner that they are.
The arrogance on display here rivals that of the Pharisees, who attempted to guard the gates of heaven as if they were doing God a favour. Similar to modern liberal progressives, these gatekeepers of old were unsolicited and had no business dictating the affairs of a group of which they don’t belong, in light of the fact that the experts in law had not entered the kingdom themselves.
The religious leaders suffered an egregious case of self-deception. While they purported to stand strong with the Father in carrying out his will, the Son of God revealed that they were taking side with none other than Satan, and had become mere tools of his unholy labour.
“You are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.”
— John 8:44 (NLT)
In his mission on earth, Jesus came to give us rights to a redeemed identity (the Father’s adopted children) and access to a revitalised community (the Church that forms the body of Christ). The opposition, comprising of anyone bearing the gatekeeping spirit of the Pharisees, would love to sabotage these amazing gifts offered to us by our gracious God.
As Jesus described, these consist of individuals who have not joined his kingdom, and yet prevent others from doing so — not at all different from Satan, who walks the path of the damned, and would try anything to drag down as many others as possible along with him. What sorrow awaits!
To end on a positive note, let us not forget that Christ alone has the authority to accept or deny anyone’s access to God.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
— John 14:6 (NLT)
As the Chosen One, Jesus acts as both the gate and the rightful gatekeeper to the Father. We are, therefore, blessed by his revelation, the knowledge of the True Way to Life. At the same time, we have no reason to fear the imposters who would attempt to bar us from our place in the kingdom.
For unless they repent, the only gates that they’ll ever see are the gates of hell.