Should we talk like Jesus?
Luke records the story of Jesus in confrontation with the religious authorities of his day. A Pharisee had invited Jesus home for dinner and was surprised when his guest did not wash his hands before eating. That was a Jewish custom and if not followed would make a person ceremonially unclean. That Jesus did not follow this practice was not what they expected. Instead, he corrected them very severely saying that although they cleansed the outside, inside they are full of extortion and wickedness. Then he went on to speak of their lack of justice and their habit of demanding respect in the marketplace. Far from being ceremonially pure, they were like “unmarked graves” that polluted anyone who stepped on them. They realized that they were being insulted so turned hostile. As Jesus left they tagged along behind trying to trap him in his speech.
When you read the entire account in Luke 11:37-54 you see how confrontational Jesus was on this occasion. After all, he was a guest at a dinner party. Was that the proper time to say to the religious authorities, "You fools!" and, "Woe to you, Pharisees”! Putting the other person on the defense creates an awkward moment at a dinner party.
Is Jesus teaching us how we are to conduct ourselves in similar situations? Or should we exercise a bit more restraint? Perhaps we should follow his example when he is doing nice helpful things but not when the situation calls for opposition? No, that can't be right. It would leave us the option of doing only what we wanted to do.
I believe the answer is to take a careful look at the principle that lies behind the action. Context is crucial. The way Jesus handled the situation indicates how serious it is to turn the worship of a holy God into a vast collection of legalistic rules. To drive home this point called for some very direct language. The fact that the Scribes and Pharisees were so well versed in the religious status quo made it all the more difficult. When we meet a somewhat similar situation our goal should not be to use the same words but to accomplish the same result.