When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11:37–39)

Jesus has just entered this man’s home, having accepted an invitation to dinner. Every guest who has ever passed through those doors has washed their hands before being seated, slavishly observing a custom unbroken for centuries. It is a test of orthodoxy and solidarity. Jesus knows this, knows they are watching his every move. He walks right past the line at the washbasin and makes himself comfortable at the table. The Pharisee apparently is speechless. Jesus reads the look on his face and offers an explanation: “Oh—the washing bit,” he says as he takes a piece of flatbread, breaks a bite off, and chews it. “It completely clouds the issue. Outwardly you look sensational. But inwardly, your heart is full of extortion and evil.”

The things Jesus says. Apparently, he’s not concerned about being invited back. Jesus’ three years of public ministry are one long intervention. That’s why he acts the way he does.

Remember, Jesus is not strolling through the Israeli countryside offering poetry readings. He is on a mission to rescue a people who are so utterly deceived most of them don’t even want to be rescued. His honesty and severity are measured out precisely, according to the amount of delusion and self-deception encasing his listener. When a soul is encrusted with pride, bigotry, self-righteousness, and intellectual elitism—as was his dinner host—then that shell does need to be struck hard at times in order to cause a crack that might allow in some light. Jesus strikes with the precision of Michelangelo.

 

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