If I Only Had a Heart l Luke 11:37-54 l Chapel Hill Church Gig Harbor
The other day I invited a friend to breakfast. He’d done something generous for us, saved us a lot of money in the process, and I wanted to thank him. So, we showed up at the appointed hour, ordered our breakfast…and began to tuck in. And just then, I got a call from Cyndi. “Uh…you left your wallet at home!” Guess who paid for the thank you breakfast! “I’m so grateful for your generosity…how about pitching in another $35 for good measure!” Needless to say, it wasn’t the meal I had planned on.
This morning, Jesus has a meal he hadn’t planned on. Or maybe he didn’t have a meal…because by the time this conversation is over, I don’t think anyone had an appetite. Here’s how it started. Luke 11:37: “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.”
This isn’t the first…or last time…a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner. But it is certainly the spiciest meal…and I’m not talking salsa. Things get hot! From the start, this Pharisee was looking to pick a fight…and Jesus finally obliges him. If you imagine Jesus as meek and mild…this will rattle your cage. Because Jesus takes off the gloves.
The meal starts disrespectfully. The Pharisee interrupted Jesus amid his teaching. One never interrupted a Rabbi. It was rude. Jesus ignores the insult and accepts the invitation but then the Pharisee gets mad because he didn’t wash properly. When I was a kid, a meal never started without dad saying, “Did you wash your hands.” With good reason. We lived on a farm. We had road apple wars. Do you know what road apples are? Dried horse turds. I played outside…(kids…you might want to look that up on your devices…play… out…side.)…My hands were always filthy. So, it was a good question for dad to ask and the answer was almost always, “No.” (Go wash your hands!)
But the Pharisees weren’t concerned with hygiene; they were concerned about rituals… rules not found in the Old Testament…but which had been added down through the centuries. And Pharisees loved their rules.
So, who were these Pharisees? We hear a lot about them. Maybe a history lesson will help. 300 years before the Romans invaded Palestine, another army invaded: the Greeks…led by a guy you might have heard of: Alexander the Great. In the ensuing decades, the Greeks pressured the Jews to become less Jewish; to adopt their language, their customs…their religion. Some Jews collaborated…and were rewarded with power and wealth. The Sadducees, for instance. Sadducees were collaborators. Theologically…they didn’t believe much of anything about their own faith. They were uber-liberal. But because they were in bed with the Greeks, they were granted control over the Jewish priesthood and everything that happened in the temple.
But another group arose in protest. They wanted to preserve the faith. They refused to compromise and chose to separate from the Greeks. In fact, they took a name that meant “the separated ones.” Who were they? The Pharisees. Understand this! The Pharisees started out with noble intentions! They wanted to live in obedience to God Word. They believed that only those observed God’s laws would go to heaven.
But which laws? How should you define them? If you can’t work on the Sabbath, for instance…what defines work? How far can you walk? Can you cook? Can you carry a child or care for a sick person? If the Pharisees were going to obey all of God’s rules…they needed someone to define exactly what those rules were. The Pharisees started good! Isn’t it amazing how you something good…can turn so sour?
Now comes the third Jewish group you’ve heard about since Sunday School…but never quite understood: the Scribes. Called Lawyers in our text. Scribes were a combo of seminary professors and calligraphers. They were responsible for reproducing the scrolls of the Old Testament. And…they were the authorities on those words. Over the centuries, Scribes developed volumes of commentaries that defined every aspect of Jewish life. They added hundreds of laws not found in the Bible. Like laws about ritual washings before dinner…which is why Jesus ignored them! They weren’t biblical!
Simply put, the Scribes made the rules…and the Pharisees tried to keep them. The Scribes were the “Heads”…the thinkers of the law. The Pharisees were the “Hands”…the doers of the law. That’s simplistic, but you get the idea. And Jesus was always in trouble with these guys…because he would not follow their manmade laws. In some cases, he ignored them entirely: not washing properly…not fasting properly. In other cases, like the Sermon on the Mount, he was way more rigorous. Adultery wasn’t just having sex with someone not your wife; it was lusting after a woman. Murder wasn’t just killing someone; if you hated someone, you murdered them.