Monday, February 17, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 3 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The series covers these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story to Bind Them All

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

One Story to Bind Them All

The Setting

Let's begin with the setting:

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. (Luke 7:36-37, The Net Bible)

In Jesus' day, people reclined at table. The tables were low to the ground and people would lie on their left side and eat with their right hand. Since the rest of the story makes clear that the woman who brought the perfume was not a wanted guest, we must surmise that the Pharisee served dinner to Jesus and some honored guests and opened his home to townspeople who wanted to hear Jesus speak. It is important to picture Jesus and the others reclining at the table to best understand the events.

If you were going to see Jesus face, you would need to be opposite Him at the table. Those would be the seats of honor. One of the worst places, I imagine, would be at His feet. This is where the woman in our story found herself:

The Offense

As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:38-39)

In an earlier series I mentioned that behind each encounter with Jesus there is probably a more involved story. For this woman, we do not have any details besides what is given here. Why was she weeping? Was it from Jesus' teaching at the table? Given the assessment of the Pharisee, why was she even there? Clearly she must have heard Him teach before, and wanted to know more.

No matter what had gone on before, she was, in the Pharisees' home, undone by Jesus! Her inner defenses crumbled, her excuses ran dry, and her heart burst with change. She knelt down at His dusty feet and began to cry and the tears feel on His feet. Being already humiliated and having no more to lose, she let down her hair to wipe the tears and the dirt off. Then she poured the oil on Jesus' feet and possibly wiped them more with her hair. Imagine what she looked like. Tear stained face, eye makeup running, wet muddy oily hair, and she continued to cry. Imagine the uncomfortable murmuring around the room. While the room murmured, the woman felt safe.

So neither the woman nor Jesus cared what the rest of the room thought. But the host did. He wanted Jesus, the prophet, to get her off Him. Jesus did not. So the Pharisee took offense at the embarrassing situation in his home.

The Parable

So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:40-43)

A simple story of debt owed and forgiven and who would appreciate the freedom more. Simon could not but answer that the one forgiven most loved more.

Turning the Tables

Then, turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Luke tells us that Jesus turned toward the woman. To do that, He had to sit up and turn His back on Simon, his host. Jesus turned the geometry of the room to His and the woman's advantage. She who had the worst place, not has the best. Those who had the best, now had the worst. Picture Jesus lifting the woman's chin and looking her in the face while he spoke to Simon. Simon did not greet Jesus with the customary kiss or the customary foot washing. He gave Jesus no honor at all except to sit at dinner. But she had given Him honor while dishonoring herself. She got the best.

Another Offense

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

Here was Jesus forgiving sins again. The table, who only saw His back is now upset at His presumption, but He ignored it all so that He could continue to give honor to the sinful woman.

This story illustrates all the elements of Jesus' teaching style. He spoke with authority when He told the woman that her sins were forgiven and that her faith had saved her. He created and maintained offense that revealed the heart of Simon and the others at the table. He spoke a parable.

This story illustrates something else about Jesus' teaching methods and style. Those who received His words changed. The woman may have come into the Pharisee's as a sinner, but she did not leave the house as one. The transformation may have occurred earlier, but there was a transformation that took place. As I read the gospels, I see over and over how Jesus was open to those who messed up their lives with bad choices. Jesus never compromised a righteous standard in word or deed, but His message did not seem to drive sinners away. Instead he attracted many of them.

We the body of Jesus Christ on earth must present the same face. Some churches are very accepting, but maintain a low standard and hold few accountable. Others maintain high standards among their members, but are not open to unclean people. We must learn to do both. It means we must endure offensive situations and understand that as we introduce sinners to Jesus, He will clean them up, just as He has done for us.

Tuesday: The Place of Prophecy in the Church


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