Meals play a central role in Scripture. The crucial holiday in Israel’s calendar was a meal that commemorated their deliverance from captivity, and the central commemoration of Christians is a weekly meal that reflects on God’s ultimate deliverance from bondage.
Our presence in the new heavens and earth is sometimes described as a huge feast where we take our places at a banquet table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the central part of our favorite Psalm is about God’s preparing a table in the presence of our enemies.
It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus made meals an important part of his ministry, and of all the gospel writers Luke emphasizes them the most. Some of Jesus’ most important work and teachings happen around the dinner table, and tomorrow we’ll focus on a meal where the atmosphere quickly becomes tense.
This text includes some of Jesus’ harshest criticism, and it’s precipitated by the host’s amazement that Jesus did not engage in the ceremonial washing that had become expected among the Jewish leaders (for a more extensive account of this encounter, see the “woe unto you” section of Matthew 23).
For Jesus the Pharisee’s astonishment represented a kind of hypocrisy among some of the Pharisees that infuriated him. They engaged in all kinds of superficial religiosity but neglected the heart and love of God. They washed their hands but had unclean hearts. They meticulously tithed every herb but accumulated wealth to the neglect of the poor. They imposed religious burdens on others while failing to keep the traditions themselves.
Can you think of anything that Jesus criticized more harshly?
Perhaps this means there’s an important lesson for us, so tomorrow we’ll reflect not just on the first-century Pharisees but also the way that this Pharisaic spirit can infiltrate our hearts today.