But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7)
We owe a certain debt of gratitude to the Pharisees. They carried the traditions of the Hebrews, they preserved the Scripture, they transmitted the belief in the afterlife (not every Jew of that time believed in entirety with God). Beyond this, their argumentation with Jesus provided just the platform necessary for some of His best teachings. Just as Pharaoh was hardened so that God’s glory might be reveled, the hardness of the Pharisees brought forth the Glory of Christ.
Where we may find fault with the Pharisees is in self-righteousness. Maybe this is better understood as those to whom God had entrusted the revelation of Himself believed that they somehow deserved the honor. Somewhere they lost sight that it had been Given and was not earned. Where this seems to have become a problem is when God chose to move His Kingdom in such a way that shook the beautiful ivory towers they had built.
In all this, I don’t so much see the Pharisees as power holders squeezing the faithful, if Foucault’s hyperbole even existed then it most likely existed with the Sadducees. I see a group of individuals who, both collectively and individually, simply could not admit that they were part of the problem; neither in the big picture of sin, nor the micro picture of daily life in Palestine. Of course, to them the problem was teachers like John the Baptist. Of course, to them the problem was Christ Himself. Of course, to them the problem was everyone else. Their only answer was to do it their way with even more vigor.
Yet this might just be the debt we truly owe them. This mindset produced Saint Paul, this doctrine paved the road for the Letters to the Romans and Corinthians. More than what I can understand happened on the Damascus Road, but we can know that in a moment the apostle of apostles suddenly knew that he was part of the problem. He came to understand that he could not defeat his own sin, much less the sin of others, and that his teaching must proceed from Grace and Grace alone. God’s glory shining through us starts thusly: the older generation is not the problem, the younger generation is not the problem, Calvinism is not the problem, the Catholic Church is not the problem, Joel Osteen is not the problem: I am the problem.