If Jesus Ran for Office and Debated with a Pharisee
At the heart of Jesus' disagreement with some of the Pharisees was the issue of Table Fellowship.
Table Fellowship was all about who was permitted/invited to sit at the Table with you and share a meal. Jesus' invite list was very broad, whereas the religious leaders that he criticized had a very small and particular guest list.
Imagine it's Galilee, the year is 32 AD, and Jesus decides to run for office--for the position of County Synagogue Leader. It's the final week before the vote and Jesus faces up one last time in a debate against his opponent, Phil.
Here's how their back-and-forth might've gone...
MODERATOR: Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. And welcome to this year's Synagogue Leader debate featuring the incumbent Phil the Pharisee (the crowd goes wild), who is challenged by the upstart carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus the Prophet (three guys in the back do a slow clap).
Our time together will be short, since most of us have our Roman tax deadline tomorrow. We will hear opening statements from both candidates, and then I’ll ask each of them three questions before they wrap up with closing remarks. The hope today is that you would hear from each of them about their Vision for our Synagogue, and indeed our people. And be fully informed come voting day next Tuesday.
Let’s not waste another minute, and get right to opening statements.
Phil, we’ll start with you.
PHIL the PHARISEE: Thank you Mr Moderator, and let me begin by saying good morning and Yahweh bless to all my constituents in the crowd. I am looking forward to serving you once again as Synagogue Leader, as I have done faithfully for the past 25 years.
For centuries our people have been ruled by enemies of Yahweh. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and now the Romans. Everywhere we look we are reminded that though this is our home, we we are not its owners. If elected, I promise to lead our people back on a course where Yahweh himself will have no choice but to bless us again. Though our fathers and their fathers before them were unfaithful in keeping Torah, now can be the day when we turn that around.
If you want to once again be a free people, the chosen people of the One True God, then give me your vote!
MODERATOR: And now, Jesus, your opening statement…
JESUS the PROPHET: Thank you, friend. Honestly, it’s still a tad bizarre to be up here today, but you know Peter... when he gets an idea in his head, it's impossible to talk him out of it!
I want to start by saying that Phil is right. For centuries our people have been ruled by others—though I probably wouldn’t call them “enemies” in the same way he does. Nonetheless, it is true that Rome is in power and we are not. But I do often wonder what the benefit would be from “being in power.” We’ve had that before, and it didn’t end well...
I digress. If elected, then I promise to lead our people down a path of serving others, forgiving those who have wronged us, and showing compassion to even our “enemies.” If you want to be free, not in the socio-political sense, but in the same way that a flower is adorned in glory and the birds are given sustenance without worry, then I guess… vote for me!
MODERATOR: Thank you, Jesus. Phil. And now, our first question. Talk to us about why it is you think we got to where we are today? A nation under the rule of Rome?
PHIL: That’s simple. Two words: Torah Failure.
Yahweh was clear, if we follow his Laws then we can expect blessing. If we do not, then we should expect curse! For centuries we have fallen away from adhering to Torah. We have become tainted by the Gentiles around us. We have become an unclean people. It is time to get back on track and reclaim our holiness.
JESUS: What a great question, Mr Moderator. I’m not entirely sure how we got here. But I do often think, that if Yahweh was wanting to show the world what it means to walk humbly, do justly, and love mercy, then that would work best when it’s done by people who are not in power. You know what I mean?
When you have a boot to your neck and then choose mercy?
When you are lorded over by others and still respond in humility?
Wow... can you even imagine it??
But yeah, I don’t know how we got here. Life is just cruel sometimes, and let's be real, Rome is super powerful. They've sort of conquered everyone, not just us.
MODERATOR: Next question: In your mind, what has been Israel's most significant blunder?
PHIL: That's an easy one. Our God is a Holy God. And to be in the Presence of a Holy God one must also be holy.
Yet for years we have ignored that which makes us holy: the purity laws. We have defiled ourselves with pagan gods, foreign food, and mixing with unclean people. Yahweh will not accept us back until we have purified ourselves.
JESUS: No offense Mr Moderator, but I don’t know how helpful it is to try and place blame somewhere. I mean, life is hard and unpredictable. Most people I’ve met in the villages, as I’ve travelled up and down Galilee, are just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve been given.
That being said, I do find myself wondering sometimes if we have forgotten the reason why Yahweh first called Abraham to help assist him in a new project for a new humanity. If you recall, Yahweh told Abraham, “I will bless you so that you will be a blessing. In you, All the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So if I had to pick a blunder, I would say that we’ve forgotten what our original mission was: to receive the grace and mercy of our Father in Heaven and then be about the business of distributing said grace and mercy to the world.
MODERATOR: And, our final question this morning: Phil you mentioned the Purity Laws, so in that vein, what is your opinion on Table Fellowship? If elected, who will eat at your Table?
PHIL: Ah, at last we arrive at the most important issue. This is what I’m running my platform on. In fact my campaign slogan is, “Cleaning the Table; Making Way for the LORD.”
Table Fellowship is everything, Mr Moderator. Back in our golden days we had very strict laws for the Levites—as you know, the priestly clan—about how to remain pure. It was very important for them, as our priests, to remain clean. But over time they slowly lost their diligence to the purity laws, to the point where there was no longer anything separating our own religion from those of the pagans around us. But about two hundred years ago my ancestors began to call the people back to purity, and this all centered around the Table.
My plan is this: we want every Jew to see their table at home in the same way that our priests of old saw the Altar of Yahweh. A Holy place, where only the clean and righteous feast. And as we all do this, slowly we will once again become a Holy People, fit for a Holy God.
And, let the record reflect, this is why you must not vote for this Carpenter, here. He refuses to abide by these Table Fellowship guidelines!
JESUS: Sorry Mr Moderator… could you repeat the question? I got a bit lost when Phil mentioned a “campaign slogan.” I don’t have one of those… do I need one?
MODERATOR: Well, it’s completely up to you, Mr Prophet. Although, in all honesty, years from now, I’m certain no one is going to remember a word you said. But yes, I’ll repeat the question: What is your opinion on Table Fellowship? If elected, who will eat at your Table?
JESUS: Ah yes… well, the same people who eat at my table, now, of course!
Which is ANYONE!
Look, I hear what you’re saying, Phil, I do. I empathize with your desire to do what is right in the eyes of God. And I admire your commitment, your passion. Your enthusiasm. Truly.
But the more we insist that some people are “not fit” to sit at the same table as us, the more we reveal that we are probably not fit to be the one’s hosting the meal. You think it’s the breaking bread with tax collectors, prostitutes, the cripple and lame, that cause you to be unclean. But when it comes to Yahweh, what’s on the outside is not important. The heart, my friend, the heart is where God’s concern lay.
What’s my opinion on Table Fellowship? I agree with my opponent, here. It is the most important issue. No one is going to believe that God’s love and grace is for everyone, if we don’t show them ourselves. I know my table manners cause me to be an enemy to your vision for social stability, and I wish it weren’t so. But there are people who are sick, who are tired, who are hurting, who are scared, who are weary, who are broken, who are weighed down with anxiety, and I believe I can help.
And maybe it starts by saying, “here, come break bread with me.”
So maybe I will have a slogan.. how about, “Clearing the Table; Making Room for More.”
MODERATOR: Thank you both for answering the questions with honesty and sincerity. You now have 15 seconds for closing remarks. Phil, again we’ll start with you.
PHIL: This man unashamedly eats and drinks like a glutton and a drunkard. He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be too bad. After all I suppose those poor unfortunate souls do need a friend. But he takes it too far, and he invites them to eat with him. To come to the Table, where they have no business.
I even showed up one evening, because he invited me to feast with him and his disciples, and when I arrived I saw a house full of… you guessed it… tax collectors, sinners, and even prostitutes. And they were sitting in the seats of honor, no less!
Of course, don’t worry fellow countrymen and women, I didn’t stay. I would’t defile myself like that.
But I ask you, my people, who do you want to lead us? Someone who will get us back in favor with Yahweh? Or someone who threatens to undo the very fabric of our society?
JESUS: Funny you should mention fabric, Phil. I was just sitting here looking at this hole in my tunic, and thinking about how I need to make sure I don’t patch it with new fabric. Mixing new, unshrunk fabric, with the old, will cause it to pull and make things worse...
I guess what I’m saying is that Phil here is right. I do want to undo some things.
And I was so excited, Phil, when you accepted my invitation to come to dinner the other night. I wish you would have stuck around! Levi, the one you call “The Tax Collector,” did an amazing routine with two buckets, a potato, Theodore's baby goat, and a bronze lampstand. The whole house was roaring!
Look, it’s fine if you don’t want to vote for me, brothers and sisters. I don’t really know that I want to win, anyway. What I want is for us all to remember that Yahweh cares more that we are people of love and mercy, than that we are people who follow strict laws. Yes, Phil, even the purity laws.
In fact, I tell you what. How about I just withdraw from the race, right here and now? I concede, you win.
As for everyone else, especially those who get called “unclean” and “sinners,” you’re welcome to follow me. You’re my kind of people.
Plus, I’m getting hungry. Can we eat, now?
This was originally written for a sermon I gave two years ago titled Dismantling Disgust, where I go in to more detail about Table Fellowship, purity laws, and how God wants mercy and not sacrifice. You can listen to it here.