Public Insults and a Private Rebuke

20 Jul

While Jesus was still speaking to the crowd, he was invited for a meal at the home of one of the Pharisees (Luke 11:37). One has to wonder if the Jewish authorities wanted to get Jesus away from the crowd of pilgrims that kept getting larger and larger (Luke 11:14, 29). Jesus was invited to “dine” aristao (G709) at the Pharisee’s home. This was not the evening or chief meal of the day, because Luke later makes a distinction between the two in Luke 14:12. There the ariston (G712) is mentioned with the chief meal of the day, or the supper—deipnon (G1173). John uses the word aristao (G709) to describe the meal Jesus made for the disciples after they labored all night fishing (John 21:12, 15), so it would appear that Jesus was invited to eat a breakfast with the Pharisee immediately following the hour of prayer at the Temple.

The introduction of the Pharisees at this point tells us they were among the crowd who criticized Jesus (Luke 11:14-15), saying he was in league with the Devil (cf. Luke 11:15). Matthew records a similar incident that took place near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matthew 12:24; cf. 9-14 and Luke 6:6-11). There, the crowd was beginning to believe Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Matthew 12:23), so the scribes and Pharisees slandered Jesus in an effort to keep the people in their own (i.e. the Pharisees’) camp. Here the Pharisees wanted to get Jesus away from the crowd before a similar incident developed in Jerusalem. If the crowd gave Jesus their support in Jerusalem, the authority of the Pharisees would be placed in jeopardy.

Furthermore, the introduction of the lawyers later in the text (Luke 11:45) points to a similar understanding of Luke 11:14 (cf. Mark 3:22). They, too, were among the crowd that arose over Jesus’ healing of the mute man.

After entering the Pharisee’s home, Jesus immediately reclined at his table without taking part in the ceremonial washing exercise provided by his host. A servant would have first poured water over the Pharisee’s hands who invited Jesus, then Jesus was expected to allow the servant to do the same for him. It was part of the Jewish culture, practiced by the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities, that they would engage in many ceremonial cleansing activities (cf. Mark 7:3-4). Nevertheless, immediately after his host washed and reclined at the table, Jesus reclined also, but without washing. Thus, his host marveled and, no doubt, asked him why he had done so.

When Jesus submitted to be baptized by John, he didn’t need cleansing, nor did he need to repent of any sin. Rather, what Jesus did by taking part in John’s baptism was that he sanctioned the rite, and in doing so it came to be practiced by Jesus’ disciples. However, as it pertained to ceremonial cleansing adopted by the Pharisees and taught to the Jews, Jesus originally found the doctrine harmless, and practiced it with the other Jews, as Mark 7:1-2 implies. Notice that the Pharisees did not, at that time, accuse Jesus of not practicing the traditions of the elders, but they did criticize some of Jesus’ disciples. In other words, some of the disciples adhered to the traditions of the elders, while some of the others did not.

When the Pharisees made out like those among Jesus’ disciples were doing wrong, or sinning, by not practicing the traditions of the elders, only then did Jesus take exception to the rite. So, in Luke 11:39 Jesus immediately reclined at the table without taking part in the ceremonial washing in order to provoke controversy from those who had already shown their contempt for him by claiming he was in league with the Devil (cf. Luke 11:17).[1]

The text doesn’t say what, if anything, prompted Jesus’ remarks in Luke 11:39-44, but no doubt the Pharisee who had invited him, or even one of the others there asked him why he took part in such an insulting breach of etiquette. It seems that insulting Jesus publicly by claiming he was in league with the Devil was a correct social posture to take for the Jewish authorities, but a private rebuke of the same authorities by Jesus was an unacceptable and insulting breach of etiquette.

Jesus’ host was, indeed, discourteous to him in that not only were the Pharisees responsible for claiming Jesus was in league with the Devil (Luke 11:15), but, if he didn’t share the religious party’s point of view, why hadn’t Jesus’ host spoken in Jesus’ defense. The fact that only a woman spoke out in Jesus’ defense (Luke 11:27) implies the Pharisee’s invitation for Jesus to dine with him had ulterior motives. Those motives most assuredly would have included getting Jesus away from the ever increasing number of people, coming together to hear what he was saying. The Jewish authorities feared Jesus would be embraced as the Messiah by the pilgrims in Jerusalem and endanger their position with the Romans, for Pilate had already killed a number of Jews in a minor political incident not long before Jesus’ arrival (cf. Luke 13:1).


[1] The Pharisee’s invitation only shows his contradictory behavior. If he really thought Jesus was in league with the devil, why would he have invited him into his home for a meal? Certainly, he had more criticism in mind, but, if a “holy” man knew another man was openly and purposefully evil, why would the “righteous” invite “evil” into his home?

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Posted by on July 20, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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