Jesus Insults Religious People (On Purpose!)

We continue our series LOVE PRAY EAT, with this week’s message on Luke 11:37-54…

Jesus once again eats with the religious elite (see also 14:1-12), when one Pharisee is surprised by Jesus’ failure to wash before eating—something Jews did before meals, Bible study and prayer. Jesus is not long reclined at table when he issues four strident rebukes regarding the hypocrisy and abject failure of the Pharisees in their attempted devotion to God (11:39-44). 

We need to keep in context that the fact that Jesus is eating with the Pharisees indicates acceptance of them and fellowship with them. And as such, the early church, and us too, are being counselled on managing relationships with other hostile groups—perhaps even members of their own families. Jesus’ example is to continue table-fellowship with anyone. Being on the receiving end of a rebuke from Jesus does not necessarily mean exclusion and judgement (cf. 9:51), and Jesus will teach later “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (17:3). To Jesus, the Pharisees are brothers.

In this meal scene, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and lawyers because of their exclusion of the poor from their tables. Though these Jewish leaders are fastidious and disciplined in outward observances of purity such as ritual washings, and tithing their mint and rue, they are withholding alms for the poor (v. 41), neglecting justice and the love of God (v. 42), coveting places and positions of public honour (v. 43), burdening people and failing to help them (v. 46), persecuting the prophets sent by God (vv. 47-51), and withholding knowledge from the people and obstructing them in devotion to God (v. 52).

Jesus’ mission of salvation to bring good news to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed is implicit in his rebuke. Jesus does not shy away from challenging those who obstruct this good news, even when he is the meal guest in someone else’s home. As C.S. Lewis once said, “If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse. Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.” Jesus seeks to save them by his rebuke.

Jesus is passionate for the Word of God, passionate for holiness and utter obedience for God, moves in the power of the Holy Spirit and calls sinful people to stop sinning. On the other hand, he is scathing towards injustice, greed, empty religion and rituals, and is devoted to helping the poor and oppressed. How does he so beautifully integrate holiness and devotion to God with actions of justice, mercy and compassion? How can we integrate both faithfulness to God and His Word, and live lives of love, justice and service?

Nicholas Tuohy

The Lost and Lonely Find Love

As we continue our series LOVE PRAY EAT, here is the excerpt from the study guide for this week’s message on Luke 7:36-50…

That Jesus regularly dines with Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel may come as somewhat of a surprise. They were powerful, wealthy, respected and certainly not marginalised or considered outcasts. At one such dinner party he is reclining with the religious and cultural elite men of the town at Simon the Pharisee’s house, when suddenly a “sinful woman” gatecrashes the party. She would not have been welcome to dine in such a setting on at least two fronts: being a sinner and a woman. In a culture where women were veiled, she shocks everyone by letting down her hair, weeping, anointing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair.

Jesus tells a story about having debts forgiven which shows the woman is aware of her great debts but Simon is oblivious to his. Both need forgiveness from God to whom they are in debt—forgiveness that Jesus offers them. And Simon provided no water for Jesus’ feet; the woman wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair; Simon did not give Jesus a greeting kiss; but the woman has repeatedly kissed Jesus’ feet; Simon did not provide oil for Jesus’ head; the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Simon’s religion is one of pretence and façade and Jesus sharply criticises this upstanding and religiously devoted man. In Luke, how you share a meal with Jesus is a sign that either you accept him, or are judged by him.

The unnamed sinful woman finds peace at Simon’s dinner; we can only imagine peace was something that eluded Simon at the dinner table. What starts with a simple invitation to Jesus for a meal ends with Simon’s theological foundations and understandings strewn across the dinner table.

Luke shows in this story that anyone, regardless of reputation, is welcome at Jesus’ table and can offer service to Jesus’ mission. Even a “sinful” woman.

Biblical scholar, Reta Halteman Finger, says “food, meals, and eating together continue to convey strong symbolism”, and asks “if theology is communicated through meals, what kind of theology is the church communicating today?”

Who could you invite to your table this week to live this out?    

Nicholas Tuohy