Saturday, December 14, 2013

Experts In The Law (part 4)

Luke opens his fifteenth chapter with “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear Him.  But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (15:1-2)  According to Luke’s narrative structure, this actually occurs “at the house of a leader of the Pharisees” (14:1b).  Obviously, the complaint of the fifteenth chapter is prefaced by the activities of the fourteenth chapter, and those hearing Luke’s presentation are going to rather enjoy the delicious irony of it all. 

There in the fourteenth chapter, as Luke continues with his building of the tension between Jesus and the experts in the law and their associates (which, if Jesus is being critical of them and of the Temple that they represent, is eventually going to come to a head) it is said that Jesus was being watched closely (14:1c).  Based on all that has come before, Luke’s hearers, knowing what they already know about Jesus through the narrative and through the oral tradition (just as any reader approaches Luke in the midst of a body of knowledge about Jesus, albeit informed by the New Testament and their own traditions), should expect Jesus to present an open challenge.  After all, with the pronouncements of woe that came before, everyone is well aware that there is hostility.  Luke does not let his audience down, as he reports that “Jesus asked the experts in religious law and the Pharisees” (14:3a) a question. 

An answer was not forthcoming, and in fact, Luke writes that “they remained silent” (14:4a).  If it is the case that Jesus’ is challenging the legitimacy of the Temple and those that support its claims while also deriving their personal support from that same structure, then this inability to proffer an answer is an apt demonstration of the ineffectiveness of these people in their duty to represent the Creator God.  Whether they simply did not desire to engage in another rabbinic challenge, or whether they refused to offer an answer because the question was posed to them by Jesus (rather than from them to Him), with a response serving the purpose of validating the standing of the questioner (they were seeking to de-legitimize Jesus), by posing another question that is actually an answer to His first question, Jesus makes them look foolish with what appears to be a rather obvious and simple answer to a simple question. 

As Jesus offers his question-as-answer that is related to the first question, the sense of the ultimate ineffectiveness and illegitimacy of the experts in the law and Pharisees seems to grow, as Luke informs his audience that “they could not reply to this” (14:6).  From there, without a change of scene from the house of the Pharisee at which Jesus had gone to dine (14:1), “Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor” (14:7a)---a very important consideration in a meal-table-oriented-and-demonstrating honor and shame culture. 

In response, He tells a parable (14:7b).  Without recounting the parable, it can be noted that it is summarized by Jesus saying “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11).  Crucially, Luke’s hearers would have heard this parable and its summation within the echo of Jesus having spoken of another meal table, as He has previously been reported to have said that “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God” (13:29).  This is the messianic banquet that, without going into too much detail, indicates that the rule of Israel’s God on earth, through His Messiah, has begun.  To that statement is tagged: “But indeed some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (13:30). 

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