“Oh – I’m at your table?” These words cannot be redeemed. Truthfully, if I was at a wedding reception and discovered that I had been put at the minister’s table, I would read into to it as well. I can only imagine they’re thinking that this will be an evening of awkward conversations. They lighten up a little when I uncork the wine and pour myself a glass and say…’I think only Jesus could have made a better vintage’. Weddings and funerals have taught me alot about people and there ‘Man of the Cloth’ stereotypes. Unfortunately many are right.
So Jesus gets invited to a dinner by a high profile religious leader. He accepts the invitation in light of the fact that it is a set up. The religious are trying to trap him by strategically placing a man suffering from severe inflammation around the table. They have good reason to believe that if given the opportunity to heal on the Sabbath, he will. Jesus has a history of doing this, at least 6 times recorded by Luke in the weeks preceding this meal. Jesus obviously has no problem with it, but the religious see it as a violation of their Sabbath laws. So they set up an awkward dinner to watch Jesus. So many would love the opportunity to dine with God, others just want to watch him eat. It is amazing how some miss out on something life giving because they are bent on death.
There was this funeral I officiated in a quaint little hamlet, that was frozen in time 40 years. You know when you see mustard sandwiches, and jellied vegetable salad that things have been like this for a very long time. “Tell me about your religion”, someone shouts to me across the noisy room. Not appropriate material for post committal conversation I think. I have come to understand that there is usually a question behind the question. So taking a page from Jesus’ playbook, I answer his question with a question. “What do you want to know?” I ask. The room seemed to hush. Whether it was actually quieter or just how it felt is still up for grabs. ‘I don’t like religion’, he said. That seemed like an honest statement, “Tell me what you don’t like about religion” I asked still channelling Jesus’ rabbinic style. It seemed like he was prepared for such a question. He went on a rant that lasted through 2 egg salad, and 3 salmon triangle sandwiches, I was able to finish before him. Ironically, after listening to him unload all the dirty laundry about the organized church I realized I don’t like those things either. So I told him, ‘if thats your definition of religion then I agree, I don’t like it either. He was speechless. It was obvious to me that he was used to having people either defend or justify many of the things he disliked. He was intent on using his well rehearsed hatred to hammer another nail into the coffin of my vocation. I validated his concerns and helped him realize that God is at work in our world bringing life not because of religion but in spite of it.
When Jesus realizing that his dinner was a setup he asks the most obvious of questions ‘is it wrong for me to heal on the Sabbath or not?’. You know when someone drops an ‘ornot’ they are sick of the silly games. The people around that table were not prepared for this question never mind what happens next. Jesus takes a hold of the invalid, he heals him and sends him off. He didn’t need to be there. He was being used. Jesus knew this. God hates it when we do that. After the man leaves, the bible says they didn’t say a word, they where speechless. When you spend your whole life pointing out everyone else’s’ faults, it’s easy to miss the miracles in the room. How can they say nothing after witnessing the sick made well? Some how they were caught up with the wrong question. Instead of asking who is this that defies the laws of nature?, they were asking who is this that defies the laws of religion? While it is true that their are no dumb questions, it is also true there are wrong questions. A dishonest question is a wrong question. I think that God is more concerned with the questions in our hearts than he is the ones on our lips. We often hide behind the wrong questions because we are afraid of the real answers. Greg Boyd says:
You’re not really interested in believing THE TRUTH unless you take seriously the possibility that what you presently believe is NOT TRUE
How is it is possible to be so close to something so life giving and still die? I think a dishonest heart leads to a dishonest life. The man who was sick of religion and was not afraid of telling me was being honest. My hope – is that desire to be honest continues as God shows up in his life. I hope he doesn’t fail to see the miracles that appear everyday because somehow he doesn’t believe in them. .
Ironically the narrative of Jesus at the dinner was implicating the religious. Too often when confronted with something that is different or unorthodox we immediately move into fundamental mode. ‘God can’t be in this because it is different’, we think. But earlier in the Book of Luke – Jesus is recorded as saying that you distinguish trees by their fruit. He doesn’t say by their leaves, or even what Orchard they park in every Sunday. Sometimes the fruit isn’t found in having the right answers, but instead in having better questions.