By the Rev.
Massachusetts, April 14, 2002
The elders of Israel eat with God
and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel
went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something
like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But
God did not raise his hand against the leaders of the
Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank.
Lord said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay
here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and
commandments I have written for their instruction."
Luke 11:37-54 Jesus eats dinner with a Pharisee
Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with
him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee,
noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was
the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside
of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and
wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the
outside make the inside also? But give what is inside to the
poor, and everything will be clean for you.
to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue
and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and
the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without
leaving the former undone.
to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in
the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk
over without knowing it."
of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these
things, you insult us also."
replied, "And you lawyers, woe to you also, because you load
people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you
yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was
your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you
approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets,
and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom
said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they
will kill and others they will persecute.' Therefore this
generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the
prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world,
from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed
between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this
generation will be held responsible for it all.
to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key
to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have
hindered those who were entering."
Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions,
waiting to catch him in something he might say.
Apocalypse Explained #695.6 Spiritual dinners
prepare a dinner or a supper and to invite people means the same
as giving people something to eat and drink, or giving them
bread and wine, namely, to do good to our neighbor and to teach
what is true, and in this way to be bound together in love.
However, if we do these things in order to be rewarded, we do
not do them for the sake of goodness and truth, and so we do not
do them from the Lord, but for the sake of ourselves and the
world, and therefore from hell. But if we do them, not in order
to be rewarded, but for their own sake, namely, for the sake of
goodness and truth, we are acting from the Lord, who is the
source of the goodness and truth in us.
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat
with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. (Luke 11:37)
Picture the scene. You have invited a visiting minister to
dinner at your house. Everyone in the house washes their hands
before dinner, but your honored guest simply sits down at the
table--and you know he's been out in the streets among the
crowds, where there are plenty of germs to pick up. You think
it's strange that this supposedly enlightened person has skipped
such an obvious step before eating. Doesn't he have better
manners and sense than that? Perhaps this so-called "minister"
isn't very enlightened after all. You semi-tactfully mention to
him that perhaps it would be a good idea to go wash his hands.
you walk right into a hornet's nest! All of a sudden, this guy
is pointing out all your faults--and doing it right in front of
your family and the other guests you have invited to eat with
this important personage. How embarrassing! And how rude!
Who does this fellow think he is?
the worst part about it is that he's hitting much too close to
home. Those things he's saying . . . nobody is supposed to
notice them. And if they do, they're certainly not supposed to
mention them. Doesn't he know how polite society works?
Live and let live. After all, everyone cuts corners here and
there. And the fact is, we do have to take care of ourselves
first. Later on we'll get around to all that other stuff about
justice and love. What fun would life be if we didn't live it up
a bit, and enjoy the perks of our position?
guy is no fun at all. I though it would be a real coup, having
him under my roof. Very prestigious. But it's become a real
I see that one of my other guests isn't pleased about all this,
either--and he's telling the guy so. Now he's getting
ranked out, too! What a bust! We'll figure out afterwards how to
take this cantankerous dinner guest down a peg or two.
more or less, is the scene in our Gospel story. Now, I think I
can speak for most of us in saying that if we were to invite
someone to dinner, and that person proceeded to give us and our
whole profession a severe dressing down, we would be very upset!
And probably very angry as well.
However, in this case, the cantankerous dinner guest is none
other than Jesus Christ. And the story of that cantankerous
dinner guest is found right in the Bible--which we are supposed
to respect as holy. This puts us in a difficult position. Jesus
was clearly engaging in rude and antisocial behavior. yet we
cannot simply dismiss him and his behavior without discarding
core teachings of the Christian Church about the sacredness of
the Word of God, and about looking to the life of Jesus Christ
as the primary pattern for our own life.
is just the type of conundrum--just the type of paradox--that
the Jesus of the Gospels seems to like throwing us into. It is a
Zen koan. The obvious answer must be wrong. And there is
no obvious answer. This forces us (if we are willing to stay
with the sacred text) to discard our familiar ways of thinking
about things, and look deeper. In fact, the entire Gospel
story--in fact, the entire Bible--is constructed by God
specifically and masterfully to jar us out of our usual ways of
thinking and acting, and set us on a new path. If the Bible all
made sense to us immediately, it wouldn't be doing its job.
here we are, once again, faced with a Jesus who is acting in a
manner that would deeply annoy and offend us if he were to act
that way today, in our house. And let's grant that he
is acting that way today, in our house--or at least in the
"house" of our minds. The Bible is not merely a story of some
colorful characters who lived several thousands of years ago. It
is God's word to us, today. And this story is talking to us,
today. What is the message it is trying to get through to
course, we would all like to identify with Jesus in the story.
After all, we are the one whose life is so pure that we can
point out the faults in others without a trace of hypocrisy,
right? Well, I think every one of us has at least enough
awareness of our own faults that we would not try to maintain
this position. Jesus may have lived the perfect, sinless life,
but which of us would claim to be doing the same?
my friends, I'm afraid we are going to have to bite the bullet
and admit that if there is anyone in the story that we must
identify with, it is the Pharisees and lawyers whom Jesus is
dressing down. Instead of being the perfect paragon of
righteousness and love, we all, if we are honest, must admit
that there are times when we don't practice what we preach. We
bind heavy burdens on others, pointing out their faults and
looking down on them because they aren't as good as we
are, and yet we won't lift a finger to face some of those very
same faults in ourselves. We live comfortably in our own minds,
assuring ourselves that we don't have the problems--it's
those other people who are all messed up. And so we spend
more time complaining about how everyone and everything around
us ought to change, while neglecting to work on the one person
we can change: ourselves.
Now we're beginning to see more of the context of that rude
display by the cantankerous dinner guest.
fact is, everything Jesus said and did was for a purpose. He had
a job to do--and he didn't have much time to do it in.
Thirty-three years to change the course of spiritual history for
the entire world; for the entire universe. And just three
years of public ministry to bring his message to the people of
Palestine--that crossroads of the world--and through them to the
rest of humanity. Three years. Three years to bring the
message that the kingdom of God was at hand, and that people
must repent--must change their ways in order to accept God's
kingdom to avoid being destroyed by their own worldliness and
couldn't afford to waste any time with irrelevant social
niceties. There was critical work to be done. We get the sense
that the dinner had barely begun when Jesus launched into his
tirade against the Pharisees and lawyers. Didn't he know that it
was considered essential by these people to wash one's hands
before eating? Of course he did. He knew the customs of his
people. Was he baiting them by not washing his hands? He very
well may have been. He must have known that these scholars of
legal minutiae would notice, and pounce on him, for not
following their customs and laws.
get the sense that he intentionally set things up for a
conflict. It would have been a simple matter to wash his hands
before the meal--and all could have proceeded peacefully. But he
didn't. And when the Pharisee, his host, expressed amazement at
his flagrant violation of religious custom, he had a ready
answer. He turned the tables on those social leaders who thought
they were the most righteous of all, pointing out in sharply
defined words and images just how far away they were from the
kingdom of God that they claimed to own.
was he trying to accomplish? Didn't he know that these people
would get angry at him? Didn't he know they would turn against
him? That they would, in fact, crucify him precisely because of
episodes such as these?
he knew. He predicted well beforehand that the religious
leadership would arrest and crucify him. He was under no
illusions that his tough words would find fertile ground in
their minds. And yet, he went ahead and spoke out anyway.
of us, if we are faced with people who have power over us but
who are acting in an unethical, immoral, and unspiritual way,
will avoid confronting them about it. Whistle-blowers generally
do not fare very well; and we have no interest in becoming the
recipient of a modern day social and financial crucifixion. We
take care to protect ourselves. But Jesus had a job to do, and
nothing--not even the prospect of his own death at the hands of
those he was sharing dinner with--would turn him away from doing
himself told us what that job was a number of times. One of the
clearest was in his famous conversation with Pilate just before
"You are a king, then!" said Pilate.
Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact,
for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the
world: to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth
listens to me." (John 18:37)
this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world: to
testify to the truth." Of course, when we are sworn in at the
courtroom, we figure it is our job to "tell the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." Even the
painful and embarrassing parts. But the rest of the time, we'd
rather hold back in many situations where "politeness" requires
that we not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth.
Jesus, on the other hand, was "sworn in" for his entire life.
He was spiritually pledged to God always to tell the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This was the
very reason he came into the world.
so, when the Pharisee invited him to dinner, he did not see it
as an occasion to hobnob with the better classes, enjoy a fine
meal, and get feather in his cap. He saw it as another
opportunity to testify to the truth. And if we believe he was
who he said he was--the son of God, who was one with the
Father--then we must believe that everything he said about his
hosts at that dinner was the truth. He was not merely
complaining and blowing off steam, as we often do. He was
telling the simple, unvarnished truth.
in an odd sort of way, this showed more respect for his hosts,
the Pharisees and lawyers, than the crowd of people who
regularly sucked up to them and told them what they wanted to
hear. When we tell people what they want to hear, we are
generally doing it, not out of respect for them, but for what we
hope to gain by currying their favor. We don't really respect or
care about them--not about the deepest part of them: their inner
self, their immortal soul. We care about keeping harmonious
relations with them, so that our own life may go forward
peacefully, without conflict, and perhaps with a bit of profit
didn't care what these people could do for him. He had no regard
whatsoever for the positions of social power and authority they
could confer on him if he played their game. He had no interest
in flattering them in order to curry their favor. Rather, he did
them the favor of looking into their souls and telling them
truthfully what he found there. He laid it all out for them, and
then left it up to them how they would react. He gave them the
respect of at least considering the possibility that they might
be willing to look truthfully at themselves, and change their
ways so that they would be headed to heaven instead of to hell.
of them reacted with jealousy and anger. But we know that his
strong words got through to at least a few of them. He did gain
some followers from among the wealthy and influential classes.
Nicodemus. Zacchaeus. Joseph of Arimathea. These three from the
upper classes were among those who had their lives turned around
through their encounters with Jesus. And if Jesus had gone along
with their rules, these people would have gone to their graves
still untouched by the grace of God; still heading for the hell
of the hypocritical.
will we hear Jesus' strong words? How will we
react when we read the Bible and find that it is pointing out
all our faults? All our shortcomings? How will we react
when our religion and our God require us to repent, give up our
faulty attitudes and addictions, our self-righteousness and
destructive indulgences? Will we, like the bulk of the Pharisees
and lawyers, oppose our Lord fiercely, arguing for our own
righteousness? Looking for loopholes through which we can escape
personal responsibility for our own behavior?
will we allow those words to penetrate our soul, and root out
the wrongs within us? Will we allow the Lord to turn our
lives around, so that we can gain spiritual life? Amen.
Great Thou Art