While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41 ESV)
I keep telling my fellow believers that Jesus was a most dangerous dinner guest. They pretty much do the same thing, nodding with a wan smile and roll their eyes. I’m crazy. Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come to dinner? Well, funny thing you should ask. As it turns out, this passage is an excellent illustration of why we should be very careful to invite Jesus in for a meal. As He says in Revelation, He stands at the door and knocks, and will come in and eat with anyone who opens the door. So, should you? Well, let’s see what you might be in for if you do.
Jesus has just finished castigating the “generation” asking for a sign and, before that, claiming He casts out demons by the power of their prince. In Mark and Matthew, it seems it was the Pharisees who spawned that particular line of attack. So, here in Luke it’s somewhat ironic that Pharisees are missing from the preceding events, and are now inviting Jesus in for a meal. Seems nice enough. Jesus accepts, just as He says He would later in Revelation. So here we go, it’s dinner time!
This dinner discussion is broken up into two parts, one for the Pharisees, and a special edition for the lawyers. But it begins with washing of the hands (literally “baptizing”). Jesus doesn’t. The Pharisee host is “astonished”. He’s not angry, frustrated, patronizing, contemptuous, or other possible negative responses. He’s surprised that Jesus wouldn’t wash His hands. Ironically, many today would be scandalized if someone didn’t wash their hands before a meal as well, regardless of religious background. Jesus’ response to the astonishment is what astonishes me.
Jesus’ response to the astonishment of the Pharisee drives at two layers of Pharisee life. First their love for and priority of appearance. Second their assumption that any righteous person would be just like they are and see things from their point of view. Jesus points out that what’s inside is far more important for determining “cleanliness” before God. In fact Jesus makes a rather shocking statement to this Pharisee, “But give as alms the things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you” (emphasis mine).
Do you see it? The way Jesus sort of obliterates this essential difference between the Jew and the Gentile before God, did you catch that? What? Everything being clean? That can’t be right. Of course making clear what Jesus meant by “give as alms the things that are within” isn’t exactly easy, but it isn’t rocket surgery either. In its simplest form, perhaps it could be called a definition of love. It doesn’t have to be complex. It would connect well with much of Paul and 1 John 4:7,8 because between his teaching and John’s we learn that love is the “fruit” and “fingerprint” of God’s sanctifying presence in a believer’s life.
Invite Jesus in for a meal when He knocks, and you will learn that it’s not a sanctified lifestyle that ushers us into His presence. Rather His presence sanctifies our lifestyle. It’s grace, but grace that influences change rather than justifying stasis. This Pharisee host was challenged by his guest to completely change his paradigm. Are you ready for that? You see, you and I are blind. And most people are happy and content that way. Invite Jesus in for a meal, and suddenly He turns the light on (see verses 34-36). Suddenly we see ourselves and our world as Jesus does. Don’t think it will be pleasant.
The question for us is, “Are we willing to abandon our paradigm for His?” On the surface, sure! But as Jesus begins to assault our assumptions about holiness, acceptance, submission, obedience, change, perhaps our willingness may wane. See, what happens is we assume we’re in good shape, so dinner with Jesus is the best thing we can imagine. But the reality is that we more closely resemble one of the seven churches of Revelation, and will be challenged to change. He influences us, He doesn’t force us to change. So, will we? Will I? Will you?
What do you learn from this divine Dinner Guest? He’s knocking…it’s decision time.