Friday, December 2, 2016

Bad Dinner Guest

I have two sons and both of them, when they were younger, hated washing their hands. It was an ordeal before dinner to get them to, first, admit that they hadn't and, then, to go and wash them. When my oldest son was little, he reluctantly went to the bathroom closest to the kitchen and, instead of turning the faucet on, he made running water sounds (as if I couldn't tell the difference between water really coming out of the tap and him making that sound with his mouth).  No matter how much we stressed the importance of good hygiene, it took awhile for this to stick and become a natural habit for both of them.

It was with that in mind that I came to the passage in Luke 11 where Jesus is invited to dine with a Pharisee. I can't imagine that this invitation happened often as Christ was always confrontational with the Pharisees. Luke begins this way, "While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at the table." Now one of the biggest part of Jesus' ministry was sharing a meal with someone. In our modern age, it is quite common to either go out to eat or go to someone's house to have dinner, but during the time of Christ inviting someone to your house to eat was not a common act. It was filled with great significance because to share a meal meant mutual acceptance. This is why the Pharisees were so indignant and outraged that Jesus so freely ate with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.  With all of their purity laws, they wouldn't dare dream of eating with such people, who were impure outcasts. Even more so, for a person to recline at the table meant that it was a festive meal, as ordinary meals were eaten sitting up. And here Luke clearly writes that Jesus "reclined at the table." 

Did the Pharisee pick up on this? Did he grasp that the Messiah, the son of God was reclining at his very table because Christ saw this as a festive banquet? 

No, instead, Luke captures the Pharisee's reaction this way, "The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not wash before dinner." Astonished in this verse is not the same as one witnessing one of Christ's miracles; no, in this case, it meant that he was horrified that Jesus was neglecting or showing contempt for this tradition, as the Pharisee was very much rooted in a culture of purity and impurity with all of the laws regarding both. One didn't just wash their hands, but had to first wash the right hand three times before washing the left hand three times. Then, after the meal, one had to wash one's hands again to thank God for the meal. Now Luke does not mention the Pharisee saying anything to Jesus but his expression must have said enough, because Luke does record that Christ speaks and his words are harsh, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?"
I would imagine the host was greatly taken aback by this response.

Was Jesus just being ill-tempered and rude?

Next, Christ warns, "But woe to you Pharisee!"  Woe in the Greek is ouai and is an interjection of denunciation and judgment. Jesus uses "Woe" thirteen times in the gospel of Luke. Six times just in this passage alone.

"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves and people walk over them without knowing it!"

If these were being aimed at me, I would have been horrified. "Hey! Wash your hands, don't wash your hands," I might have sputtered out and then wondered what had possessed me to invite him to eat with me and, note to self, not do it again.

Did the scribes think the same?

One of them did speak up and said, "Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also."

The Scribes (or Sophers in Hebrew) had been secretaries of state who prepared and issued decrees on behalf of the king but, by the time of Christ, were (after the time of captivity) copiers and teachers of the law. They belonged to the sect of Pharisees (which meant set apart) and they were responsible for supplementing the law with their own, weighing heavier burdens on people, especially those of the lower classes. Which is why Christ turns on them with, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you!" He continues on with his list of harsh criticisms of the scribes; the last of which was, "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves and you hindered those who were entering."

Certainly they must have been shocked that this man (who dined freely with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and those deemed "impure" and  who were societal outcasts) would come into the home of a respected man of the Temple and the community and insult him like this. They were offended. But Jesus was always upsetting the social and religious hierarchies and boundaries of his time. He was constantly smashing the idols of smugness and self-assurity with his statements that the kingdom would be the first shall be last and the last shall be first . A kingdom where banquets are for the outcasts.  He was not a messiah of political power and prosperity, but was a lover of the lonely, a welcomer of the unwanted and a healer of the hopeless. And he hated what the religious leaders of his day were doing to hinder the people worshipping God and for all of the unnecessary burdens they had placed on them. He despised their choosing law over love, purity over people, and success over servanthood.

It's easy for us to look back and condemn the Pharisees, but what would Jesus say if he were to eat with many of our religious leaders today?

Woe to you consumeristic Christians who have made my Church about success and not servanthood.
Woe to you for preaching a gospel where God serves man and not man God.
Woe to you for bowing down to the idol of American nationalism.
Woe to you for choosing your own comfort over compassion.
Woe to you for proclaiming to be "Pro-Life" but caring not for that life after it's born into poverty. Or to declare the sanctity of life and yet champion war and the death penalty. Or ignore the lives of millions of orphans and refugees.
Woe to you for pursuing power than in being peacemakers.
Woe to you for being known more for the size of your buildings and the amount of attendees than in the strength of your love, compassion and grace.

What would he say if he ate in one of our homes? Would we warrant a "Woe to you" for something we are doing that keep others from seeing the love and grace of God? Are we more Pharisee-like than Christ-like? Are we known more for what we're against than for what we are for?  Would he say "woe" to us for our prizing achievements, affluence and appearance in the same way that our culture does? Would he say "woe" to us for the people we would exclude from our own tables? Who are the marginalized we ignore? Muslims? Those who are a part of the LGBT community? Refugees? Who are our Samaritans, our heretics, our impures who we would distance ourselves from?

In her beautiful book Gilead, Marilynne Robinson wrote, "Love is holy because it is like grace . . . the worthiness of its object is never really what matters."

Jesus loves those who we would not deem worthy because his love is subversive and, by loving them, shows that they are the most worthy in the kingdom of God. And he has called us to love others just in that manner. Would he say "woe" to us because we aren't?

Believe in the Greek means "to give one's heart to." When we believe in Christ, we give him our hearts in an act of not just obedience, but love, just as we do in a wedding ceremony to the one we marry. When we truly realize we are Christ's "beloved" then we will be less like Pharisees who want to exclude, marginalize, and disenfranchise someone who we think is not up to our "moral" standards, who aren't "pure."


Because none of us are. And yet, Jesus looks at us and says, "I choose you. I love you. You are mine." He offers his hand to the outcasts, the forgotten, the lonely, the broken, the hurting, the fringe, the poor, the shunned and the persecuted. He makes them, us, me, beautiful. He makes us beloved. He makes us his own. And, after he does, he commands us, "Love each other as I have loved you."

But are we really?

"Woe to you who have not loved."

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