By Tyson Thorne

October 6, 2016

The Samarian Ministry at Various Cities (9.51-18.34), 11.29-32

Luke tells us that the crowds grew larger, and Matthew tells us that some teachers of the law asked Jesus for a sign to prove his message was from God. While Jesus could have proven his message through a sign, for he had done so many, many times before, he chose to give them no sign (which sparks a conflict that will continue to balloon until things get really intense). Instead he mentions two Gentile people, the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba, both of whom had believed God’s messengers (Jonah and Solomon respectively) without receiving a sign. These Gentiles believed and changed how they lived in light of God’s revelation alone.

Jesus then says something very interesting. He says “something greater than Solomon… something greater than Jonah is here.” Jesus uses the impersonal object, not a personal one, so the “something greater” he is referring to is not himself. If it were himself, he would have said “someone greater” is here. So to what is Jesus referring? He is referring to the Kingdom of God. Jesus represents the Kingdom and is bringing the Kingdom with him. For this reason, the people should hear and believe, and in belief obey what Jesus teaches.

I’ve reached the age where my eyes are starting to change. I have to hold things out a little further away to read small print, indicating I’m a little farsighted now. Yet, if I shed more light on the document I can read it clearly even when the book is close to me. This is not a mystery; Jesus tells us that when one’s eyes are healthy the entire body is full of light. When they grow weak they need more light. Likewise, if one hears and believes Jesus’ words their body is filled with light. If they obey what Jesus teaches the light that shines from them is like a lamp on a stand and enables others to see more clearly.

Some call this “lifestyle evangelism” but it goes much deeper than that. I call it “obedience evangelism”. Friends of the prophet Daniel stayed true to the dietary laws of Judaism and it shed light on the wisdom of following God’s Law – so much so that the Gentile rulers decided all the trainees had to follow the Judaic dietary laws (Daniel 1.8-16). The reason I prefer “obedience evangelism” is because it always involves explaining one’s reasons for one’s actions. “Lifestyle evangelism” lets people off the hook in regard to talking about Jesus.

The conflict that started when Jesus refused to give a sign is about to increase ten-fold. At this point a Pharisee invites Jesus into his home for a meal, an invitation Jesus accepts. Luke calls out the fact that the Pharisee was astonished when Jesus did not first wash his hands before eating. It is likely Jesus did this on purpose to pick a fight – erm – I mean provoke a teachable moment. Some atheists point to this passage claiming Jesus did not know about germs, a claim that is laughable. The man who healed people of all kinds of illness, including death, certainly understood germs and bacteria and viruses.

Cultural Note: There are many Scriptures that talk about washing not only one’s hands but sometimes hands and feet and even the whole body and clothes – sometimes it is for ceremony and other times for cleanliness. Some of those passages are: Deut. 21.6, Exodus 29.4 and 30.18-20, Lev. 16.4 and 16.26, Numbers 19.7, Ps. 26.6 and 73.13, to name but a few.

In the Old Testament the practice usually revolved around a servant who pours water on a person’s hands to be washed as they are held over a basin. We see this method employed by Elisha, as described by the king's servants: "Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11). Elisha had served as Elijah's servant, and pouring water so that his master could wash his hands was an important part of his duties.

When the Pharisees complained against Jesus and the disciples because they ate without washing their hands (here as well as in Matthew 15:1,2 and Mark 7:1-5), it was concerning a lengthy ceremonial washing of hands that they spoke. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a prescribed method of washing and went so far as to make it a sin to not wash before and after eating. This was not a law of God, but part of a tradition of Jewish elders. Jesus refused to sanction it as a rule that was binding, or making it a sin. It was not the custom of washing hands before eating that Jesus objected to, but the authority the rabbis claimed to have in telling the people the exact and detailed manner in which it must be done.

Jesus objected to the Pharisee’s objection and likened the religious leader’s physical practice to his spiritual life. Reading it through one cannot mistake the insulting nature of Jesus’ repertoire. He calls them greedy, wicked, and foolish and instructs them to Love God before trying to obey His law. An expert in the law then tried to calm the situation and de-escalate the situation by pointing out that they are all insulted under Jesus’ condemnation. He was not rewarded for his efforts, however, and Jesus turns his rebuke on the experts as well, stating they burden the people of God, don’t obey the very laws they create and are guilty of the blood of the prophets themselves. Instead of properly instructing the people, they keep the people from a proper understanding of their God.

The situation went from bad to worse, Luke describing the reaction of the religious leaders as “bitter” and tells us they began asking “hostile questions” in an attempt to trip him up. Instead of participating in the back and forth Jesus went out to the disciples and the crowds and began to teach them.

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