Dining with a Pharisee

What would you do if a Pharisee invited you over for dinner? If you decided to eat with him, what would you say? Let us learn what we can from Jesus' actions in this very situation, as recorded in Luke 11:37-54:

"And as He [Jesus] spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, 'Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.' Then one of the lawyers answered and said to Him, 'Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also.' And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore the wisdom of God also said, "I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute," that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves and those who were entering in you hindered.' And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him."

When Jesus was invited to dinner, as He was on this occasion, He typically accepted. In fact, the Scriptures do not record Jesus ever declining a meal invitation. Our Lord was willing to eat with anyone, but His purpose was never just to socialize with them or fill His belly. He accepted invitations of this sort (and even invited Himself over to Zacchaeus' house in Luke 19:5,6) in order to take advantage of the opportunity to teach and influence those he ate with--for their own good. Sometimes He was successful in reaching a soul with the truth around the dinner table (cf. Luke 19:9,10). At other times, however, He was not. In this particular case, it would seem that Jesus enraged many people with His strong rebukes, and the animosity they felt toward Him increased.

As Jesus sat down to eat, He was already under the microscope of the Pharisee who had invited Him in. The Pharisee didn't necessarily marvel because Jesus' hands were dirty, but because He hadn't kept the tradition of the elders. All of the Jewish religious leaders washed their hands before eating. It was part of their long list of humanly devised traditions, and--from what we know about hygiene and the spread of germs today--it is certainly a good idea to wash one's hands regularly. The religious leaders in Jesus' day would not only wash their hands before every meal, but if they had been in public where they might have come in casual contact with some unclean person, they would wash their entire body!

Jesus' speech, which began in Luke 11:39, was exceedingly harsh. To some it seems strange that Jesus would speak in this manner in a house where He was an invited guest, but His words clearly show that He was bound by a higher law than conventional politeness. Merely because He was a guest did not mean He should refrain from rebuking when necessary (we would be wise to realize that this is still true today).

It is possible that Jesus gestured to a literal cup and dish on the table as He spoke. It is understood by all that to clean only the outside of the cup and dish would be foolishness. This is essentially what the Pharisees had done spiritually. From the outside, they shined and looked clean due to their strict keeping of external regulations (many of which were self-imposed), but on the inside they were filthy (i.e., they were "full of greed and wickedness").

There is certainly nothing wrong with cleaning the outside of the cup and dish, as long as the inside is washed also (cf. Matt. 23:26). Since God made both the inner and outer man, one should keep both parts clean, as he would a cup and dish (cf. Psa. 51:6). May we never forget that a clean physical body does not make a pure heart any more than fine clothes make a noble character.

Jesus instructed the Pharisees in Luke 11:41 to "give alms" of those things that were within (cf. NKJV footnote); that is, give love, mercy, compassion, etc., for the good of mankind. In so doing, one will ensure his own inner purity (cf. Matt. 15:19,20).

Our Lord delivered the first of three "woes" aimed specifically at the Pharisees in Luke 11:42 - "You tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God." Jesus condemned hypocrisy. They demanded a strict adherence to the law regarding the external aspects yet ignored the other matters concerning the heart and the proper treatment of their fellow man. They went to all the trouble to give 10% (i.e., "tithe") of their herbs, primarily because others would see them doing such and consider them to be exceedingly righteous. However, they failed miserably in obeying the weightier matters of the law that dealt with "justice and the love of God" (cf. Matt. 23:23).

Jesus commended their careful obedience regarding the little things, but He rebuked them for their carelessness regarding the more important matters. Dear friends, it is a good thing to strive to obey God in all matters, even down to the smallest detail. Nevertheless, in so doing, one must never become so engrossed in the details that he forgets the bigger picture. This will likely not happen if the individual has a pure heart and not a hypocritical one that seeks the attention and praise of men.

The second "woe" is spoken in Luke 11:43. Jesus rebuked them for their desire of honor and attention from men (cf. John 5:44). Those who are wise will seek the honor of the true and living God!

In the third "woe", Jesus chastised them for being "like graves which are not seen" (Luke 11:44). According to Numbers 19:16, any Hebrew who touched a grave was unclean for a week. In order to help prevent the possibility of unknowingly touching a grave and becoming unclean, the Hebrews whitewashed the graves and tombs annually. However, spiritually speaking, the Pharisees were like graves that defiled men unknowingly. This was true because their hypocrisy concealed their true nature. In other words, they appeared clean on the outside, like a whitewashed tomb (Matt. 23:27), but on the inside they were full of "dead men's bones and all uncleanness." They made others unknowingly unclean through their corrupting influence.

One of the lawyers who was present addressed Jesus in Luke 11:45. The term "lawyer" is used interchangeably with the word "scribe" in the New Testament. Their work was to copy the Old Testament and expound upon it and the traditions of the elders. Some of the scribes were Pharisees. This particular scribe felt the sting of Jesus' rebuke and evidently felt that His words were not justified. Perhaps this man considered himself to be close to Jesus and was surprised at His harsh language against the Pharisees, a group of men which this lawyer closely resembled himself!

Jesus' words to the Pharisees weren't careless or hasty. He meant every word He said, and now He would direct His attention specifically to the "lawyers" and give them three "woes" also.

First, He charged them with loading men 'with burdens hard to bear" (Luke 11:46). They did this through their traditions (e.g., regarding the Sabbath). They were careful to load these burdens upon others, but they were careless when it came to following them personally (cf. Matt. 23:3,4).

The second "woe" to the scribes affirmed that they built "the tombs of the prophets" and that their "fathers killed them" (Luke 11:47). Tombs were often located in the sides of hills or cliffs. Some believe that to "build" a tomb of a prophet in this context would be to decorate its entrance and give honor to it and the body therein. However, if this is the correct interpretation, Jesus did not accept the way they honored the prophets. A prophet is not honored by decorating his tomb but by receiving his God-given message and obeying it! These scribes didn't have much in common with the prophets--though they praised them verbally, no doubt. They were more like their ancestors who murdered the prophets!

It is more likely, however, that these two verses are better understood figuratively. Perhaps Jesus is saying: "Your fathers killed the prophets by violence, and you bury them (build their tombs) by teaching error (i.e., doctrines which were opposed to the words of the prophets)!" For the scribes of Jesus' day to teach against that which the prophets spoke was, in essence, to give approval to the murderous acts of their fathers.

God promised to send prophets and apostles to His lost children, even though He knew some of them would be killed and persecuted (cf. II Chr. 36:14-16). "That the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, that it shall be required of this generation" (Luke 11:50,51).

The Old Testament records the death of faithful men like Abel and Zechariah (cf. Gen. 4:1-8; II Chr. 24:19-22). Jesus' statement here is a comprehensive one that includes all those who died as martyrs for doing that which was right before God. Abel was the first one to die under such circumstances, and Zechariah appears to be the last--at least as far as the record of the Old Testament is concerned.

Jesus' affirmation that the blood of the prophets would be required of His generation is difficult in light of passages like Ezekiel 18:20. His meaning here must be this: God would hold Jesus' contemporaries accountable in the sense that their generation essentially approved of all of those past murders by going beyond them and crucifying the Son of God (cf. Luke 20:9-16)! Their punishment as a nation would be served in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem would be destroyed.

The third and final "woe" is found in Luke 11:52. A true knowledge of the Old Testament was a key that should have opened the door for all Hebrews to accept Jesus and His kingdom. However, the lawyers had essentially taken this knowledge away by teaching their traditions instead of the Scriptures. Although they should have been knowledgeable, they were blind and "did not enter in" themselves. And, because of their interference in Jesus' ministry, they often confused and hindered others who were striving to enter in.

As our Lord delivered these blistering statements, the scribes and Pharisees "began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things" (11:53). They were desperate to find some fault with Him regarding His speech because His words angered them greatly! Tragically, the truth did not penetrate their hearts in any beneficial way; it only enraged them.

As the chapter concludes, Luke described their behavior as "lying in wait for Him" (11:54). They sought Him in much the same way that a hunter seeks his prey. Jesus' words brought out the worst in them. Their antagonism toward Him is seen to be very intense.

Dear listeners, let us always remember that we must speak the truth in love at all times, even around the dinner table! True love will cause us to deliver rebukes with a proper spirit when they are needed (cf. II Tim. 4:2), even when this results in making some enemies. May we always endeavor to keep the outer and inner man clean, and may we seek to obey the Lord in all matters--both the big issues and the small ones. And finally, may we never elevate our own opinions and traditions to the level of Scripture and become twenty-first century Pharisees!

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.