Lunch With a Pharisee

“Woe to you!  For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them” (Lk 11.48).

Jesus had lunch with a Pharisee one day (Lk 11.37).  Not only did Jesus not wash his hands before the meal, he proceeded to take his host to the cosmic woodshed.  Between bites of legumes Jesus exposed the wrank hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

A Mosaic lawyer took issue with Jesus’ ill-mannered polemic: “Teacher, when you say this, you insult us too” (v45).  The assumption, of course, was that Jesus did not mean to lump the lawyers in with the Pharisees.  “Just to clarify, Jesus, you are obviously not suggesting we lawyers are like them.”  So Jesus clarified his remarks:  “Woe to you lawyers as well!” (v46).  The Pharisees may have paraded around town being fawned all over, but the lawyers were guilty of murder.

The lawyers built shrines to the prophets, dedicated their tombs “to the glory of God,” celebrated their service and declared national holidays in their honor.  And all the people rejoiced to have such able leaders carrying on the dignity and tradition of the Hebrew prophet.

All the while, the men who made a show of the prophets’ deaths were the very ones who had killed the prophets they eulogized.  It would be akin to Heinrich Himmler being the keynote speaker at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s funeral, where he unveils a new bronze statue in front of Bonhoeffer University.

By the time the teiglach was served Jesus had tried, convicted and sentenced the Mosaic lawyers and Pharisees.  Of course this would play out most ironically when these very Pharisees and lawyers conspire to kill Jesus himself, The Hebrew Prophet to end all Prophets.  In the name of serving “the people” they would actually serve themselves by neutralizing the threat to their power.  They would hold press conferences announcing the success of the Rome-Jerusalem Accords only to hide the backroom shady deals made to achieve “peace.”

Perhaps we might launch into our own tirade against politicians and lawyers.  We all know (and fall for) the golden-tanned, Armani-clad, Ivy League millionaire telling Fox News or CNN how dedicated they are to “the people.”  All the while they are the ones selling out their constituents for another set of pearl cufflinks.

Jesus’ midday jeremiad reaches a broader audience, though.  It is the nature of self-righteous, self-justifying people to care far more about appearances than substance.  Anyone suggesting our public face betrays our private heart is an uninformed lunatic or raving legalist.  In fact, like the Mosaic lawyer, we assume Jesus did not mean to insult us, too.  We, after all, are certainly not like them.

But we are.  We slip in a snappy, wise-sounding one-liner in Bible study giving the appearance of deep biblical devotion.  But we know we heard it on the radio, saw it on a bookmark or read it in the Hallmark section.  We offer a hearty “I’ll pray for you” in the hallway after Sunday School, knowing we have not seriously prayed with or for anyone in years.  We lift our hands and sing loud, knowing we have clinched our fists and wagged our tongues for weeks about a church member.  We offer a hearty “amen” when the preacher condemns the sinners out there, while we nurse indwelling sin ourselves.  We put on a worship performance that makes Broadway jealous, knowing we rarely talk Bible over coffee with a neighbor or weep with a Christian sister in pain.  We glamorize Jesus when the cameras roll, but are unrecognizable when the makeup is removed.

We not only want our left knowing what our right hand is doing, we want the world seeing both hands doing it.  Appearance more than substance.  I love people making much of my apparent holiness and maturity so that I do not really have to confront my substantial unholiness and infancy.  As long as I celebrate the prophet no one will suspect I actually killed him.  Like Dorian Gray, I may look young and fit on the outside but the real portrait sits blood-stained out of periphery.

The Pharisaical life is an exhausting one.  Trust me.  But Jesus saves Pharisees (Jn 19.39; Phil 3.5).  Jesus died for those who make big promises and love the show (Mk 14.31), but slink away when threatened with exposure (Jn 18.25).  Those for whom Jesus died will certainly remove the mask and come humbly to the One they denied (Jn 21.7).  The day will come when lunch is followed by the eternal supper prepared especially by our Lord (Rev 19.9).

Yes, Jesus had lunch with a Pharisee one day.  He also ate my lunch, too.

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