Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Lord's table (7) - causing offence

There is a remarkable incident in Luke's Gospel which provides a wonderful insight into our Lord's methods.

"When 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 surprised." (Luke 11:37-38).

Luke says simply that the Pharisee 'noticed' that Jesus didn't wash his hands, but the preceeding statement that Jesus "went in and reclined at the table" implies a deliberateness on Jesus' part to avoid the ritual purification of hand-washing. Jesus' involvement with the crowds immediately prior to this would have left him 'impure' in the Pharisee's mind, so to a righteous person hand-washing was an absolute necessity.

There are two possibilities as to what happened here. Either bowls of water were standing ready for handwashing, and Jesus passed them by, or, bowls were passed around the tables and Jesus may have deliberately handed them on without using them. Either way, His actions would have been deliberate and would have been a breach of the social etiquette. The Pharisee was surprised/astonished. The Greek word (from thaumazo) suggests almost shock.

But the biggest shock is yet to come! Jesus berates his host. He begins with these words:

"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 the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you." (vv. 39-40).

This leads into a catalogue of "Woe to you Pharisees" statements. His listeners understandably feel insulted (v. 45) as Jesus unleashes a critique which leaves his audience angry and ready to mount a counter-attack. It was a radical challenge both to their conventions of ritual purity as well as to their table-fellowship practices in general.

In an incident with some similarities in Mark 7:17-22 Jesus "declared all foods clean". Here, by refusing to wash after contact with the crowds, He is declaring all people clean!

This incident tells us some interesting things about how our Lord confronted the errors of the religious leaders.
  1. It tells us that Jesus deliberately took advantage of an opportunity to confront and challenge them regarding their religious practices.
  2. He did so in a way which completely disregarded social etiquette and good manners, and as a guest He confronts His host in his own home.
  3. Jesus insulted, shocked and offended people who were wrong (so much for "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild"!)
All too frequently people with an alternative view about how things should be done are told by their religious leaders (possibly 'Arranging Brethren') that they should submit to people who might be 'offended' if the alternative view was adopted. For example, men have to wear suits and ties and women have to wear hats in church ('Meeting') so as not to 'offend' those who think this is the only appropriate way to dress at the Meeting. A brother cannot pray using 'you' and 'your' if it 'offends' people who prefer 'thee' and 'thou'. Reading from a modern translation might 'offend' someone who prefers the King James Version, and contemporary Christian music is 'offensive' to some people, so only the Hymn Book from the CMPA can be used.

What would Jesus have done? Well, our Lord could certainly be 'offensive' when He needed to make a point! He would have done things the right way, not the way which gave in to those who were 'offended'.

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