Flashback Episode — Insulting His Host: Luke 11:37-54

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As I read the gospels, I am amazed at how Jesus interacted with people. On one hand, Jesus loved everyone, and He actively helped those who were hurting, sick, and/or needing encouragement. On the other hand, Jesus had some pretty harsh things to say to others, and in every case that I can think of, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for those who felt they were spiritually superior to others.

However, in the event we are looking at this week, I am extra amazed at the audacity Jesus has one Sabbath afternoon. It would seem from reading this event, Jesus doesn’t shy away from speaking the truth to someone, regardless of whether it would be socially acceptable or not, regardless of whether it was framed in a positive or negative way, and regardless of whether He was a guest in that person’s home.

Let’s read this passage, and discover what happens. Our passage comes from the gospel of Luke, chapter 11, and we will be reading it from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 27, Luke tells us that:

37 Jesus finished speaking. Then a Pharisee invited him to eat with him. So Jesus went in and took his place at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised. He noticed that Jesus did not wash before the meal.

39 Then the Lord spoke to him. “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish,” he said. “But inside you are full of greed and evil. 40 You foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 Give freely to poor people to show what is inside you. Then everything will be clean for you.

Let’s pause briefly, because Jesus has just been invited home by one of the Pharisees who had been at the synagogue that morning. Perhaps, this invitation was because this Pharisee wanted bragging rights with his friends that Jesus came and ate with Him, or perhaps this Pharisee was simply wanting to be nice to a traveling guest.

However, regardless of the reason for the invitation, Jesus accepts it, and then before the meal has even begun, Jesus begins challenging this man regarding his traditions.

But Jesus doesn’t stop with talking about hand washing and being clean. Continuing in verse 42, Jesus continues challenging the Pharisees present by saying:

42 “How terrible it will be for you Pharisees! You give God a tenth of your garden plants, such as mint and rue. But you have forgotten to be fair and to love God. You should have practiced the last things without failing to do the first.

43 “How terrible for you Pharisees! You love the most important seats in the synagogues. You love having people greet you with respect in the market.

44 “How terrible for you! You are like graves that are not marked. People walk over them without knowing it.”

Jesus’ words and challenges in this passage are shocking in my mind. While I am not shocked that Jesus had these words to say to the Pharisees and about them, it seems crazy in my mind to think that Jesus would wait to be the guest in a home before thoroughly insulting the host and many of the guests.

While Jesus was speaking truth, I am amazed that He chose this time to do it, and that He challenged them in this way. Perhaps, a more diplomatic sharing would not have reached this group of people, or perhaps Jesus spoke the way He did because He wanted to wake these Pharisees up to how they had let their traditions become their expectations for others.

Whatever the case, not only were there Pharisees present, there was another group of people, and they too were offended by what Jesus was saying. Continuing reading in verse 45, Luke tells us that:

45 An authority on the law spoke to Jesus. He said, “Teacher, when you say things like that, you say bad things about us too.”

46 Jesus replied, “How terrible for you authorities on the law! You put such heavy loads on people that they can hardly carry them. But you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

47 “How terrible for you! You build tombs for the prophets. It was your people of long ago who killed them. 48 So you show that you agree with what your people did long ago. They killed the prophets, and now you build the prophets’ tombs. 49 So God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them. They will kill some. And they will try to hurt others.’ 50 So the people of today will be punished. They will pay for all the prophets’ blood spilled since the world began. 51 I mean from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. He was killed between the altar and the temple. Yes, I tell you, the people of today will be punished for all these things.

52 “How terrible for you authorities on the law! You have taken away the key to the door of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered. And you have stood in the way of those who were entering.”

53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law strongly opposed him. They threw a lot of questions at him. 54 They set traps for him. They wanted to catch him in something he might say.

How Luke chose to end this passage does not surprise me, and with what Jesus had challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying, I am not surprised that these two groups hated Jesus.

I wonder if the Pharisee-host for this meal kicked Jesus out after He said these things, or I wonder if Jesus left before the food was served. If Jesus chose to stay for the meal itself, I wonder if there was awkward silence for the rest of the time Jesus was present. Part of me wonders if Jesus accepted this invitation because He saw it as an opportunity to offend everyone who would be there.

But regardless of the reaction these leaders had towards Jesus’ message, when we look at the message itself, we can see an amazing theme come to light. With everything Jesus describes about both groups, we see the theme that these two groups had used their God-given position to make life more difficult for those around them. These two groups were incredibly detailed and focused on the wrong things.

Instead of being focused on the blessings and love God had for His people, these leaders made God’s love conditional to obedience, and then they increased the standard of obedience past anything that God would have required. When someone failed and broke this high standard of obedience, then these leaders were quick to judge and condemn the person, and they were the first to make an example of how the individual was now outside of God’s favor.

Jesus’ challenge to these leaders was that they were given their positions in order to help others. They should have been emphasizing God’s love, His forgiveness, and all humanity’s unworthiness, because there are more examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament than His judgment.

Pride had infected the hearts of these leaders, and because of that, their message and view of God was distorted and they could only see the rules and punishments God gave in the past, and their focus on this minority of examples warped the picture of God they taught to others.

Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who kept people from seeing God’s love, and while these words spoken to this group of religious leaders were harsh, it was Jesus’ best chance to get through to them that their focus on life and their picture of God were flawed.

As we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Continue seeking God first in your life. Choose to begin building your foundation with Him on the truth that God is 100% love. Use love as a filter for your reading and studying the Bible, because God does not deviate from this character trait.

Also, choose to study the Bible for yourself – and specifically pay attention to times where God might not appear loving in the Old Testament. If I claim that God is 100% love, but you discover something in the Bible that makes God appear unloving, wrestle the situation out with God for yourself. The only way you can grow into the person God created you to be is by growing personally with God. Pastors and podcasters can inspire ideas, but only personal study can grow a relationship.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 27: Cam discusses a message Jesus has for someone who invited Him into his home, and what we can learn from Jesus’ harsh words for this Pharisee and his friends.

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