Part three of Non-Elitist Theology is still in the works… for now, a thought from my Bible study.
Luke 11:37 and following describes a confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees of His day — and it’s one of my favorite stories of Jesus’ interaction with them.
Picture this: Jesus has just been preaching to the multitudes with a number of very audacious statements concerning His authority and power. One of the Pharisees wants to sit down with this new rabbi and have a talk with Him, so he invites Him over for dinner. Jesus accepts and goes along. Undoubtedly there was some tension and suspicion on the Pharisee’s side, but things were being conducted in a civil manner.
At the very beginning of the meal, Jesus neglects a very touchy part of the Pharisaical tradition — He doesn’t wash His hands before dinner. The Pharisee is peeved by this, but he at least has the tact to keep his mouth shut.
Too bad for him that Jesus knew the hearts of all men.
Jesus lights into him. “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness” (11:39)
Whoa. Um… somebody want to pass the potatoes?
“Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?”
Remember that this is happening in a Pharisee’s house. Around the dinner table. At the meal that Jesus had been invited to as a guest.
The Man had no shame. Miss Manners would have been appalled. Yet I can imagine the Father nodding His head in approval as Jesus delivered the word of conviction and truthful rebuke that had been burning in the heart of God for years.
As if it were not enough that Jesus had gotten really personal already, He turns and pronounces woe upon His hosts… three times. They were rigorously holding to the letter of the Law, but neglecting justice. They loved public honor and flattery. They were “hypocrites,” as unclean as a tomb and defiling undiscerning people who were routinely in contact with them.
Talk about a conversation killer.
One of the lawyers tries to set this young upstart of a preacher straight. “Teacher,” he says, straining to speak within the bounds of civility. “By saying these things, You reproach us also.” The underlying message is a strong one. Back off, dude. Look around the table for a second. If You mess with the Pharisees, You’re messing with us, too, and You are totally outnumbered. You are irking every single person in this room.
Jesus doesn’t skip a beat. It’s almost as if He replies, “Funny you should bring that up. Now that you mention it… Woe to you also, lawyers!”
He has three woes for the lawyers as well, and He doesn’t hold back on any of them. These men were burdening the people beyond what was righteous, while they themselves sought loopholes and compromises. They were of the same spirit of their forefathers who had killed the prophets. They were missing the true knowledge of God, and were hindering all their followers from it as well.
11:53 – “And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things…”
Go figure. A sharp, true prophetic word, plus a roomful of self-righteous religious people, equals lots and lots of sparks.
Jesus’ boldness in this passage blows my mind. Even though it is very serious and weighty, sometimes I find myself pretty amused at the scene. He was in the Pharisee’s house, for goodness’ sake, eating the Pharisee’s food. “Woe to you” does not make for pleasant dinner conversation.
Of course, every one of His rebukes were true. His timing in releasing the word was perfect. He did nothing outside of the bounds of meekness and love, even as he tore into the Pharisees, in a Pharisee’s house, where He was a dinner guest. It’s absolutely phenomenal. This is the same guy who told Peter to go ahead and pay the temple tax, “Lest we offend [the Pharisees]” (Matt 17:27). Yet He saw no problem with pummeling those same religious leaders with rebukes over dinner.
You’ve got to love Him for that.