In Luke 11:37-54, we see a strange interaction at the dinner table. The Pharisees invite Jesus to dinner, and they notice that he doesn’t wash before eating. They ask him why. In response, Jesus goes into a long tirade against the Pharisees, calling them proud hypocrites who are internally corrupt. You know that big speech against the Pharisees in Matthew 23? Luke puts it here–at the dinner table.
As the lawyers listen to Jesus’ tirade, they say, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too” (NRSV). And Jesus replies by laying into the lawyers. He accuses them of binding heavy burdens on people that they’re unwilling to lift themselves. He tells them that their ancestors killed the prophets, and that they’ll kill the prophets whom God is about to send. After this incident, the Pharisees resolve from that point on to trap Jesus in his own words.
There are other scenes in which Jesus just goes off. In Luke 4, Jesus speaks to his home-town of Nazareth, and he actually gets a pretty decent reception. V 22 says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?'” But Jesus responds by criticizing them. He says that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown, and he refers to the fact that Elijah and Elisha helped out Gentiles, but not the people of Israel. And the people of Nazareth went into a rage when they heard this, as they attempted to throw Jesus over a cliff.
Jesus is bizarre. He’s gets set off by a simple question. What kind of a dinner-guest is this?
The scene in Luke 11 reminds me of two things. First of all, it’s hard to be around people who hold strong opinions. You don’t know what will set them off! And you see this all over the religious and political spectrum: left and right. I much prefer to be around open-minded people, who acknowledge that there are various ways to see an issue.
At the same time, the Pharisees don’t really appeal to me either. They criticize Jesus because he doesn’t do things exactly as they do. I hate this kind of group-think. It just reeks of “Why don’t you do things like us? After all, we’re the group, so that automatically makes us right.” And you see this all over the place: in religion, in politics, in academia. Consequently, I can understand Jesus’ annoyance. It’s refreshing to hear someone say (for once), “You want to know why I don’t do things your way? Because your way stinks!” Whoa, Jesus, you’re challenging assumptions that the group thinks should be unquestioned. And how dare you question the wisdom of the all-knowing group!
Also, the lawyers are somewhat haughty. “You’re criticizing us–the lawyers! People don’t dare to criticize us!” It reminds me of a classroom incident I once had. A professor was showing us a video on which he was a guest, and a student criticized one of the video’s main points. The professor responded, “Actually, I was the one who recommended that this point be made.” That struck me as rather arrogant. Did he expect the student to retract her statement once she realized she was disagreeing with his royal highness? That seems to be the lawyers’ attitude.
I also think that the Pharisees overreacted–just a little bit. Just because he criticized them, that doesn’t mean they should try to undermine him. But the honor and shame system was probably big back then, and Jesus had definitely shamed the Pharisees. Plus, they realized that, if Jesus became popular, he’d convince the people not to follow them. And they didn’t want to lose their power and influence!