While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
I have to confess that I am not a great one for inviting people round for meals. As a young couple my wife Maureen and I were always enthusiastic socialisers. These days, as I get older, I am much more of a hermit. Nevertheless, we do recognise the human/spiritual importance of hospitality and sitting, either with friends or sometimes with complete strangers, around the meal table. There are thirteen separate stories in the gospels of Jesus eating and drinking with other people. At these tables significant conversations were held, people opened up, laughter, tears and deep feelings were shared.
Partying with the sinners
Water into wine
Becoming the Bread of Life
Grazing in the cornfields
Tea with Zacchaeus
Banqueting with the Pharisees
Dinner at Lazarus’s house
A last supper
Breakfast on the beach
At this meal however, the table becomes a place of conflict and distancing, rather than of warmth and meeting. When I ask people into my house for Sunday lunch, a quick bite to eat, a leisurely coffee or a Saturday night curry, I expect them to behave in a certain way. I expect them to respect my home and family. Most of all, I expect them to respect me. I don’t expect them to start arguing with me and I certainly do not appreciate it if they start making deeply judgemental and insulting remarks about me.
So what is it about the normally patient, tolerant and putting up with people Jesus that he suddenly becomes the dinner guest from the ‘angry people society’? This is the same man who can sit down with a party full of publicans and sinners and become their friend. Yet here with a seemingly good and highly regarded religious leader, the sparks fly, the gloves are off, the words cut deep.
It began back in Galilee and has gradually gathered momentum. The Jesus versus Pharisees and scribes, lawyers and priests conflict is the key drama to the Jesus story. Here he is getting closer to Jerusalem and the drama is getting deeper and more wounding. There will be no turning back or making of an armistice after this. Soon it will simply explode into open warfare.
Where is the table you want me to sit at?
Who are the people you want me to invite to my table?
What is the conversation you want us to have?
May you lead me and show me.