Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” (Lk. 7:39 NASB)
Luke provides the “interior” speech of the Pharisee. We skip right over that because we’re so used to it in books and works of fiction. But it really should arrest our attention here. How would Luke know what the Pharisee was thinking at this event? For that detail to become part of the story of Jesus, Jesus would have had to tell the disciples. That would have happened had they asked perhaps, but they wouldn’t know to ask until after the resurrection. And after the resurrection, wouldn’t there be bigger questions to ask?
The Problem of Knowledge
One element of interpretation of Scripture that cannot be left out is appreciating the genre of the literature that makes up that piece of Scripture. Okay, so that’s Biblical interpretation basics. So, now consider a philosophical basic, epistemology, “how do you know what you know?” Together, genre and epistemological questions, lead me to ask how Luke, in a narrative of historical events, was able to know what one of the characters was thinking?
The answer isn’t really all that difficult or problematic because there are so many to choose from. We can’t really know which answer is the one for Luke, but seriously, there are enough to supply options that will satisfy most reasonable inquiries. So whether Luke considered it obvious, or Jesus made sure He shared that detail with His disciples, or this is a common First Century literary element of narrative (easily investigated), or other options, Luke puts it in, and is inspired to do so. That the Pharisee thought that Jesus wasn’t much of a prophet if He didn’t know what sort of woman was touching Him is a valid and necessary element of this story. Luke’s point is that the Pharisee is making some epistemological assumptions, and, ironically, they are way off.
The Problem of Honesty
Without the note about what the Pharisee is thinking we miss the irony of Jesus’ correction. We miss the opportunity to realize we sit and assume right along with the Pharisee. We would have a very indistinct view through the “mirror” of Scripture to see ourselves as our Master sees us. We need to know what the Pharisee is thinking because we need to know that our thinking is flawed as well.
Here’s what I mean. How many times do we ask, “Does God love me?” or “If God really loved me, why am I facing this problem?” Have we never doubted the qualities of God shouted loudly in Scripture? Do our questions and doubts reveal the areas of our lives that our Master is trying to change? For years I was afraid to question God. I would never ask such things, and I verbalized and thought internally that my problems must be my fault. I was Job’s friends to myself. Those questions are important! Without them the mirror is dim, our Master has no options to reveal to us the areas of our lives missing from His authority. And truthfully, I believe that we shy away from asking these questions so that we won’t have to look at those areas. We don’t want to change, not really.
The Problem of Change
So there is great value in knowing what the Pharisee was thinking. But the value comes as we allow ourselves to be revealed as the Pharisee, as we follow the trail through Jesus’ parable, and admit that we too have been poor hosts to our Savior. The choice is to be the city-sinner woman or the faithless-Pharisee, but if we want to be the woman devoted to Jesus then we need to be honest about who we are first. We have to often move from the Pharisee to the woman, because remember that the woman didn’t get there instantly. There was a moment of honesty about herself that drove this sinner to the feet of Jesus where she would humble herself tremendously.
So, are we willing to be honest about ourselves? Are we willing to question Jesus, and be honest about those answers? In modern common vernacular, are we willing “to go there?” Because if we don’t or won’t go there in ourselves, we will not give the Holy Spirit the rights He waits for to continue transforming us into the image of Jesus.
The Problem of Choice – What’s Yours?
Of course, having “gone there” doesn’t ensure that we’ll change. We’re left wondering if the Pharisee changed. If he did, then perhaps that’s how Luke knew what he thought, he did interview him (yet another option supporting Luke’s literary element). But we’re not told, so we’re left without the assurance that simply knowing and owning our questions about Jesus will enable the change necessary to know Jesus more deeply. But we can be assured that without the honesty it won’t happen.
That’s my view through this Pharisaical knothole. What’s yours?