26 October 2011

"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others." (v. 42)


All through the Luke's Gospel, meals are important. They are not just places of teaching and fellowship. They also give glimpses of the kingdom of God in how Jesus acts, who he includes, and how he behaves.

At issue in today's passage is that Jesus has not used the water provided for ritual washing as demanded by Hebrew tradition. In doing so, he has broken an important taboo. Jesus would know this would offend his Pharisee host and the other guests: the offence is intentional to make a point. Despite the treatment of the Pharisees as villains in many Gospel stories many were attracted to Jesus, if also wary of him. The invitation to the meal is evidence of this attraction.

Here in Luke's Gospel, Jesus gives the rebuke to the Pharisees face to face, in the context of a relationship over a meal. In Matthew 23 the Gospel gives much the same rebukes, but to a crowd. Jesus' point is that the Pharisees are hypocritical, vigilant in less significant things and neglecting more important religious duties. Jesus is not saying that behaviour is not important, but that they value the look of holiness over the real thing.

The lawyer in today's passage is interesting: he speaks as if to make common cause with Jesus, not wanting to be counted among the Pharisees. But Jesus condemns him as well. The passage may anticipate the persecution experienced by the early Church. The Gospel would thus give its first listeners a way of understanding the hard reality they experienced as part of God's plan.

In verse 49 Jesus refers to the "Wisdom of God" as a personal actor in history. 'Wisdom' (the feminine 'Sophia') is the one who exposes hypocrisy and convicts those who reject God. The "Wisdom of God" appears elsewhere in Proverbs 8 and other Hebrew scriptures, calling humanity to account.

To Ponder

With whom do you identify in today's passage? Why? What do you think God is saying to you through this?

To what extent was it just of Jesus to offend his host? Why?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

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