Woe to the Pharisees. Jesus finally cuts loose.
A Pharisee invited him to dinner, so he went. Jesus always went. He never declines an invitation (nor does he ever ignore a rejection). Jesus is no hypocrite—he lives out his own teaching. He is always going, always seeking to save those who are lost, always reaching out to people, even those who have been hostile to him. I can’t think of any place that Jesus would not go, except to the places (such as Nazareth and the Decapolis) where he had been rejected. To recline at table was to accept the hospitality of your host. Jesus is not just going there to preach judgment against them, but to receive the gift of hospitality and the hand of friendship. The Pharisee draws first blood.
He noticed Jesus didn’t wash before the meal. It’s one of their religious rituals, and Jesus doesn’t play the game. But he had a way of creating teaching opportunities, not just waiting for them to pop up. When he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, he easily could have waited until sunset to do the miracle, but there were important things to be taught, so he pushed the envelope to created a teachable moment. So also here. Jesus, knowing what they were thinking and their hypocrisies, baits the question with a tad of social impropriety. In that sense it’s like a living parable—a little story making a big point.
He launches in: You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. God made both. Everything counts, you know. God made everything good, and it all counts. It’s wrong to think either inner or outer can be ignored or isn’t as important. OK, here’s one for you: be generous to the poor. That’ll make you clean. James 1.27 makes the same point (so also Jesus in the sheep and goats story in Mt. 25.31-46).
And what’s up with this, Jesus continues. You tithe, but you neglect justice and love. Notice he didn’t say the answer to all their religious problems were to go to church, pray more, and read their Bibles more, but justice and love. I love this guy. He was spot on, every time.
While we’re at it, he continued, you’re filled with your own self-importance, and you care about your status and image. But you don’t help real people with their real problems. You build tombs for the prophets, as if you pity the poor souls. You approved of your ancestors killing them!
You know what? he concludes. You’re guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Don’t walk around in self-delusion, and in trying to look in front of the people. You are your own problem, and you’re causing a problem for others too.
Good for him. Somebody should-a said it.