“37 And as he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to have a meal with him, and he went in and reclined at table. 38 And the Pharisee, when he saw it, was astonished that he did not first wash before the meal.” (Luke 11)
When I was a kid we had dinner. An ancient custom, it was a meal, laid out at a table, a table in a room with no TV in it, which we would as a family sit down to at the same time. Once seated, prior to grabbing our grubby little paws to pray, one or both of my parents would invariably ask, “Did you wash your hands?” It’s a good thing for my folks that as a child I wasn’t familiar with this verse from Luke. They could have expected a steady dose of, “first wash the inside of the cup, Mom, and then the outside will be clean also.” If I had been a better Bible scholar I could have quoted Matthew fifteen, “11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, dad, but what comes out of the mouth—this defiles a person.” I’m sure my folks would have corrected my theology promptly by pointing out what was issuing from my mouth was anything but a blessing but it would have been fun right up until then.
As a boy growing up with his head full of cartoons, I usually forgot the niceties of life. For many reasons I’m pretty sure this was not Jesus’ problem. I can say with reasonable confidence Jesus didn’t forget to wash his hands. For starters, he didn’t have cartoons. Secondly, ancient Middle Eastern cultures did not use silverware. They ate with their hands from a common bowl. They did not cut the bread; they broke it, with their hands. This may not seem like a big deal to you but remember; this was before paper had made its way from China to the west. No paper, no toilet paper. According to Wikipedia… “In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater. Several talmudic sources indicating ancient Jewish practice refer to the use of small pebbles, often carried in a special bag, and also to the use of dry grass and of the smooth edges of broken pottery jugs (e.g., Shabbat 81a, 82a, Yevamot 59b). These are all cited in the classic Biblical and Talmudic Medicine by the German physician Julius Preuss (Eng. trans. Sanhedrin Press, 1978).” Boy, am I glad small pebbles and broken pottery didn’t catch on!
The sheer scintillating joys of learning about ancient toiletries aside, all that is to say, you can bet little Jewish boys were taught to wash their hands with even more militant enthusiasm than little americkish boys. In a culture of “cleanness” I would even venture to guess Jesus would connect good manners and hygiene as a guest with honoring not only his host but his own Father and Mother as well.
So, if it wasn’t an accident, why did Jesus intentionally dis his Mother, his Father and his host by not washing his hands?
Because he loved the Pharisees and scribes too. This may not be readily apparent to us, especially those of us who cling to the Nice Jesus. The lamb-hugging, blue-eyed, fair skinned, blow dried, soft-focus Jesus. Cabbage Patch Jesus. That image always jars me like pictures of Eor the donkey smiling. It just ain’t right. It doesn’t fit with cleansing-the-temple Jesus or Revelations 19 Jesus. In Luke twelve Jesus says he has come to kindle a fire on the earth. In Matthew ten he says, “34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth! I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Does Jesus hug his lambs, heavens yes! And it’s there, in his embrace, you will quickly learn something… Jesus isn’t always comfortable! He doesn’t immediately feel safe! Lambs don’t feel safe in the arms of lions. But if you cleave to him long enough you will learn like the psalmist,
“5 For Yahweh is good; his loyal love is forever,
and his faithfulness is from generation to generation.” (Ps 100)
And I humbly offer our verse from Luke as proof. Jesus doesn’t wash his hands on purpose precisely because he knows it will provoke the Pharisees! What justshane? Are you saying Love provokes? Love confronts? Yes, yes I am…sometimes. When necessary.
Why? How can love be confrontational? How can confrontation be necessary?
Ever hear of an intervention? Precisely. A father who sees his son getting ready to do something astoundingly, bone-snappingly stupid, confronts him, opposes the child’s will, possibly even violates the child’s rights to restrain them. Not in anger, not from hatred or meanness or selfishness but from love! From a desire to see the child safe and healthy and whole. The level of violence this intervention includes will depend greatly on whether the child acts in ignorance but is humble and teachable or whether the child is belligerent and willfully disobedient to the Father.
Jesus is the Savior. But what if people don’t think they need saving? What if you lived in a culture where people called evil good and good evil? What if you lived in a culture where everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes? What if you had to convince people of sin in the first place? A place where the only law was defined by the great theologian Cheryl Crow, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” Or what if you lived in a society like the Pharisees, where if it makes you happy, it must be bad?
Then you might have to poke people in the chest a little. No one but no one kept the law better than the Pharisees. In fact, the Law was for sissies, mere minimum requirements! Phaugh! They piled traditions on top of the Law of Moses to make sure you couldn’t even get close to breaking the Law. If Moses said, “dunk yer head, twice a day,” the Pharisee dunked his head twice and hour! No one was going to out righteous them! When it came to keeping commandments and statutes and regulations, they were the bomb! They were the first string. They were the A-team.
But Jesus… He shows them, they completely missed the commandment.
“15 “See, I am setting before you today life and prosperity and death and disaster; 16 what I am commanding you today is to love Yahweh your God by going in his ways and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his regulations, and then you will live, and you will become numerous, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land where you are going.” (Deut 30)
Do you see it? If not, don’t worry, neither did the Pharisees. Lord willing, I’ll show it to you tomorrow.