Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

October 2001
The bowl, the spices, the chair
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column IN LUKE CHAPTER 11 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. You remember the Pharisee – they were that religious group that refused to put all the emphasis on religious temple rituals, the way that the Sadducees did. The Pharisees were the ones who emphasised making the ancient scriptures relevant for life in their contemporary world.

One of them goes and invites Jesus to lunch. My advice? Never invite Jesus to lunch unless you're ready to get into trouble. Jesus comes to lunch. And then he's rude. He doesn't wash up; that's rude. He calls his host foolish in front of the other guests; that's rude. And then look verse 39. Here's a guest at someone's house for a meal and he's talking about people who wash the outside of bowls and cups and leave the inside dirty.

There's a progression in the three accusations. Jesus talks about how the Pharisees deal with ills, then how they go about doing good and then about how those things affect their identity.

THE BOWL – like dealing with the dirt on the outside of the bowl, the Pharisees deal with problems in their lives that others can see, presenting a sanitary exterior. Kinda reminds you of another kind of bowl...

THE SPICES – the Pharisees give 10 percent of everything... not only a tithe of their money and of their food, but even of their spices. But they do it in a tax-like sort of way, with no real regard for why or the needs out there.

THE CHAIR – the Pharisees love the most important seats and being greeted in the marketplace. Surface evils dealt with, surface good maintained, they look important, they look alive. Sitting up in their seats.

Jesus says that they are like unmarked graves which men walk over without knowing it. You look at them, they look alive, sitting up. Actually they're horizontal and six feet under. The result of exclusive attention to the surface is a surface that no longer matches the interior.

Next thing, one of the Experts in the Law answers him: "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also."

"Exactly," Jesus is going to reply.

At least, I thought it was an expert in the law... now that I look again, I think maybe it says, "One of the evangelicals said, 'You insult us also'..." What group do you belong to? What should your translation say?

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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