Sabbath Reflection for Friday, November 14 (’14)
Text: Luke 11:37-46
I’ve been blessed, I suppose, with an upbringing that taught me a portrait of Jesus bigger than this:
I never believed God to be close enough to me that I could use casual language in addressing him or casual attitudes in worshiping him. Of course, I have my own problems—and they are legion. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a survey of my past would indicate old friends confuse me with that freakish and poor fella from Mark 5, especially when I’m worn out. Yes, we all have issues. But please, don’t let one of yours be a happy-go-lucky, loves-everybody kinda Jesus. He’s not that type of a guy, and that’s a good fact because it means you can trust him to perform one very important action on your behalf.
In Luke 11, Jesus is the Great Insulter. The moment he arrives at the dinner party, he saps the life from the room and leaves people wondering, “Who let him in here?”
First, Jesus insults his host, a Pharisee—one of that caste in Israel who considered themselves fastidious law-keepers and, in fact, the true worshipers of Yahweh in Israel—guides to the blind. They were so careful with the Law they often wouldn’t approach the border of breaking it, setting up a tradition of oral laws around the Law Itself in an effort to not get close to breaching God’s command(s). Luke 11:38 says, “Now the Pharisee was astonished that Jesus did not wash…” . It is, after all, basic politeness to wash before supper even today. However, Jesus didn’t just have dirty hands. To the Pharisee and all those like him, cleanliness was next to godliness. They ritually cleansed themselves. Today, they’d be prescribed a pill for OCD hand-washing. Really, I can identify with this. The toughest part of being a parent for me early on was dealing with how nasty I thought kids were (turns out, they’re really not—they’re quite normal; it’s me who is neurotically clean). They cleansed everything thinking it helped them better obey the laws of purity given in Leviticus and elsewhere. For Jesus to skip this process knowingly was abominable.
Here’s a great chance for Jesus to kindly correct this stupid understanding of law—this Tradition of Man over God. Instead, he says this: “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (11:39).
Basically, he says, “You think my hands are dirty? That’s nothing considered to the filth that is all of you!”
There you have your Jesus: the Great Insulter. Not quite the buddy-buddy homeboy you may have thought.
The next insult is subtle. He doesn’t just insult the Pharisee, but he also insults the prevailing culture. You can see it throughout the section. The Pharisee is “astonished” because it’s what he expects Jesus to do. It’s simply polite and godly culture. You know…almost like dressing up a certain way on Sundays…ZING! Jesus quickly moves on, having successfully—and intentionally—insulted this high-standing member of polite and godly (and clean!) society, and having insulted their prevailing culture of manners and godliness.
Third, Jesus insults the Lawyers. OK, easy jokes aside, Jesus sets this one up nicely by establishing quite clearly that he’s insulting the Pharisees (as if they hadn’t gotten the picture yet from 11:38-41’s “you’re full of it” and “you’re fools”). He drops some “woes” mid-food service. The following are always debbie-downers at dinner:
Woe to you, Pharisees, for you only tithe the external stuff to look good (11:42).
Woe to you, Pharisees, for you buy up the best seats in the house (11:43a).
Woe to you, Pharisees, for you love it when people make a big deal of you when you buy groceries and see you around town (11:43b).
Woe to you, Pharisees, because people don’t even know you’re the Walking Dead (11:44).
After the awkward silence, the Lawyers speak up. C’mon. They had to have known better, right? But the punchline is, they just didn’t know any better.
One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also” (11:45).
One of them speaks up, but there were more there. And this is the guy with the guts to say what they’re all thinking.
Yeah. Because that’s going to make a difference. Because if Jesus didn’t care about insulting the Pharisees, he would certainly spare the lawyers.
Whereas a Pharisee might be an expert in (what he thought was) obeying the law, the “Lawyers” (Greek: νομικοῖς) were experts in knowing the law. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) of who knew the Mosaic Law, Moses was a 10 while the νομικοῖς were 15’s. They were what our friends in Internet chat rooms only pretend to be: absolute experts in what the Law did, and did not, say.
Both the doers and the knowers are present. Thus, what you would expect the experts to say in response to Jesus is not, “Whoa…dude…CHILL. You’re really hurtin’ our feelings, bro!” But instead, “Yes, Teacher, you are correct. We have not done rightly—any of us. How can you help us?” Where you would expect repentance, instead, you get rigidity and rigamortis.
Jesus’ response is timelessly classic:
And he said, “Woe to you lawyers (νομικοῖς) also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (11:46).
“Also!” “Oh…you thought I was leaving you out? Ha!” Basically, the lawyers liked lecturing people while not caring about people. That’s a long way off from Morgan & Morgan, being “For the People” and all.
So. Here is your Great Insulter of the Doers of the Law, the Culture of the Law, and the Gate-Keepers of the Law. None of them escape Jesus’ intentional insults.
Why is this Good News? Quite simple, really. Our Messiah isn’t shackled by teacher’s pets, prevailing norms, and experts. That is not to say it is wrong to be a teacher’s pet, look and act like your culture (which is, to some extent, going to happen), or be an expert. However, we need a Messiah from what oppresses us, whether it is a culture that subtly twists the truth of the Scripture or experts who fail to correct such twisting. We need to get called out, and thank God this Messiah does it.
Jesus isn’t my homeboy. He’s the Great Insulter. And I am perfectly fine with him insulting me if necessary. I, for one, would rather him insult me and create repentance than for him to insult me and my reaction show spiritual rigamortis.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the Great Insulter.
“Heavenly Father, please grant us repentance. Let us not neglect the heart of the law while attending to the letter. Let us tithe, yes, but more importantly, change our hearts so we care about justice and removing the burdens that oppress. Thank you, more than anything, for taking the curse of the law away from us and crediting our accounts with the obedience of Messiah. In his name, Amen.”