Familiar or Follower
There’s a story in the book of Luke about Jesus at a dinner where the shocking and beautiful converge. Two people’s reactions to Jesus are spotlighted before those gathered, and it is as if Jesus has a “define-the-relationship” talk with each of them.
The man and the woman each interact with Jesus in ways that I can relate to. They seem extreme, but my heart has mirrored theirs at different seasons of my life. And in classic-Luke-fashion, the last person you expect to be the godly example is revealed to be the one with pure saving faith.
When I read the story, I realize how much I long to model after that faithful character. I want to embrace a heart of devotion, a heart like a true follower, and I must be aware of the familiarity that my proud heart can exude.
The Man - Success, Control, and Confidence
Before this story in the book of Luke the Pharisees have been horrified by what Jesus has done. He claimed to forgive sins. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He healed on the Sabbath. Their disgust had been kindled.
Yet, they have been interested enough in Jesus to continue to engage with Him. One Pharisee was interested enough to invite Jesus over for dinner. His house is the setting for our story in Luke 7, and he is the first character.
Luke 7:36 “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.”
Now to understand this guy, we have to know that Pharisees exuded success, control, and confidence.
This man’s success was evident. The Pharisee was a powerful guy, a spiritual leader in the community. Being a man with influence, he was powerful, being able to teach and condemn when needed, and he had a house big enough to invite people into.
As part of the Pharisees, he was a man of control. The Pharisees were part of the religious leaders, though theirs' wasn’t a large sect. They interpreted the laws strictly and knew they had to obey God. Obedience was valued so much so that the oral traditions became law themselves and rule piled upon rule. Self-control became everything, and anyone who did not have control over their life, morally, financially, or socially, was clearly not pious enough.
This man’s confidence was revealed at least partially in his invitation to Jesus. In those days, their houses opened up into courtyards with gardens. So, people who were important, like this Pharisee, would often have dinners outside in the courtyard where many could gather and watch their evening. Thus, Jesus came to his home, sat in the garden around a table, and was put on display.
His Reaction to Jesus
The Pharisee had likely heard Jesus teach. Whatever his thoughts had been, he clearly was asking what many were asking: Who is this Jesus? Who do I believe he is?
Yet, his actions revealed his current answers to the questions. We should say his lack of action more than his action. The Pharisee exposed his superiority by not offering service to Jesus. He didn’t wash his feet, kiss his cheek, or anoint his head. The condescension the man would show someone who didn’t have his same level of success or control was exactly what he showed Jesus.
It’s normal for people to provide water on someone’s tired and dirty feet when they entered your home. Those dirt roads were where people put all their trash, and where donkeys and horses relieved themselves as they walked. Feet were dirty. But this man acted as if it would be too much trouble for Jesus.
He didn’t offer Jesus a kiss on the cheek when he came in, which is a sign of respect in those days. It was the opposite of shaking someone’s hand when they come in to greet you.
No oil was put on Jesus’ head after walking in the hot sun all day. Your skin was hot and dry, and this was normally done for special visitors. The Pharisee’s confidence in his own standing seemed to spill over into thinking that Jesus wasn’t really all that special. How much better than him could he be?
It’s as if he didn’t offer to take his coat, to shake his hand, to bring him something refreshing. He was curious about Jesus, but the man didn’t love him. There was no devotion to Jesus, only familiarity.
Familiar or Follower
This man Simon in Luke 7 wanted to be around Jesus. He invited him in his house. Was that to show him off to the watching crowd? Perhaps. No matter his reasons, he clearly was comfortable with him, a comfort rooted in his own presumption.
But Jesus wasn’t and isn’t a man to be familiar with. He isn’t someone to use on display. He’s one with which our comfort should be rooted in his love and not confidence in ourselves.
It's what Jesus teaches this man a few verses later, after a woman enters from the opposite end of the social ladder, that shows the man great love and reveals the truth of his heart.
40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
This is the “DTR” that discloses all. The condescension, the judgment, and the confidence in himself have all revealed that this man does not see his debt. He sees the sin and failings of others, but not his own. His debt is minuscule and insignificant. And thus, there is no desperation or love for the One who can remove his debt. “He who is forgiven little, loves little,” Jesus says a little later on. (Luke 7:47)
In my own heart, I need to take warning from this Pharisee to make sure that I am not resting in my own success, control, and confidence. Judgement of others cannot replace my own debt. “I am socially aware.” “I’m doing something.” “I have control.” Our judgement can take many forms. Mine can.
At the same time, I must not allow familiarity with Jesus to wash over my desperate need for him and his grace. This man's great failing was that he didn’t see inside himself and his debt. Then, he did not see Jesus for the great Rescuer he was. He was the one who could grace away debt! His perspective illustrates the choice between familiar and follower. May we be people who know our great need and follow Jesus, never solely choosing familiarity.
The woman he was judging, on the other hand, saw her need, saw Jesus, and left with the greatest gift- peace. Let’s talk about her next.