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The Pharisees Need an Intervention

Interventions are rude.

Luke 11:37-44 (ESV)

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

The strange priorities of the Pharisees live on today. Many hotels in Israel have a special elevator called a Shabbat elevator, which runs continuously, stopping at every floor. Pushing a button on an elevator closes an electrical circuit and that is “work” according to the teachers of the law. Thus, on the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) this is prohibited.

This is especially ironic because, in physics, work is force-times-distance; it’s the energy expended. Shabbat elevators do a lot of work and waste tons of energy. They also regularly close electrical circuits when opening and closing the doors. From a physics point of view, this all seems crazy.

Typically, these hotels have replaced their incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents to save energy. But then they blow it all on a spectacularly inefficient elevator. They have twisted themselves into pretzels trying to conform to one specific interpretation of the law, while missing the point of “rest” completely. You’d almost think they need an intervention or something.

“Intervention” isn’t a bad description of what Jesus is doing in this passage. At first glance, His behavior seems strikingly rude. Interventions are rude. They are desperate measures designed to save someone from a dire situation.

And the Pharisees are indeed in dire straits.

Every conversion involves an intervention – but it’s the Holy Spirit who does the intervening. All we can do is set the stage. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t open a person’s heart, sharing the gospel with them is like talking to a wall.

And it’s fair to say that this is rude. A person who isn’t interested in the gospel and isn’t interested in changing, is transformed by the Holy Spirit into someone open to the gospel. Sure, it’s a transformation for the better, but so is any successful intervention.

It’s still rude.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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