Debating Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth was not remotely predictable, and that perhaps intrigued me more than anything. While many others dismissed him or dreamed of silencing him, I dreamed of conversing with him.

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She wasn’t invited.

She and I could not have been more different. I devoted my life to the law, applying my heart to learning every detail, staying well away from its boundaries. Righteousness was my pursuit, and my diligence earned me a great deal of respect in the community. People looked to me as a model of Godliness, and I felt I served them well. Both my colleagues and opponents looked forward to discussing or debating the finer points of the law with me. I was always eager and prepared for such moments, and I always walked away satisfied with my performance… until that night.

Nothing prepared me for my encounter with him. He was both the most loved and the most hated man in the city. I had observed him on many occasions, and internally I longed for the opportunity to debate him. My colleagues so easily dismissed him as a fraud or worse. They disdained him, and some even talked of the need for eliminating him. But me?  I wasn’t sure what to think. He had no formal training in Jerusalem, yet he demonstrated incredibly deep knowledge of the scriptures. How does that happen?  What rabbi so thoroughly trained him?  If he was not mentored by a rabbi, where could he have obtained a Torah scroll for study?  Some said that he spoke with the tongue of a demon. It was a possible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable knowledge.

I also struggled to find an explanation for the works that he was doing. I had seen enough to know that these were not just tricks to manipulate the masses. He definitely wielded some great power, but what was the source?  Was it demonic?  If not demons, what other options were there?  But I had seen people possessed by demons. There were no similarities between those people and this man. I had never seen a demon heal people. I had never seen one be kind to people. Jesus of Nazareth exercised authority over powerful demons, casting them out of well-known individuals. Could that imply that he carried a high demon within him? Did his so-called good deeds serve a sinister purpose?  Was he the worst kind of fraud?

Some thought him to be a prophet and even suggested that he may be the Messiah. Such notions were hardly worthy of serious consideration. If he were the messiah, why would he not have revealed himself?  Wouldn’t he first seek out those who had studied the prophets?  Wouldn’t he desire our approval?  Those of us with extensive knowledge of the messianic prophecies would be needed to validate his identity. The uneducated masses should have been looking to us for answers. Yet, he openly criticized us, placing no value on our credentials or opinions. I could not believe a prophet of God, or the promised Messiah would present himself in such a manner.

I would lie awake at night pondering these questions, creating make-believe conversations with him in my mind; an exercise I often did when preparing to debate others. But their answers were generally predictable. Jesus of Nazareth was not remotely predictable, and that perhaps intrigued me more than anything. While many others dismissed him or dreamed of silencing him, I dreamed of conversing with him. I needed to ask questions, and I needed answers from him.

It was my wife who opened that door for me. During the course of her day, she sometimes had opportunities to interact with the women who traveled with him. We decided to hold a banquet in our home. He and his followers would be among the invited guests. I was thrilled when he accepted. If all went well, I would be able to question him myself. I spent hours preparing my questions, my arguments, and my responses. I wanted to be certain that my colleagues would praise my performance. However, I didn’t want them to know how important this was to me. I knew they would not understand my anticipation. Very few were seeking answers to the question that was Jesus of Nazareth. However, they knew my skills, and they looked forward to seeing Jesus being the target of them.

The day arrived, and what an unusual variety of guests there were – esteemed colleagues along with common people of the type rarely seen in the house of any Pharisee. My servants were well versed in the protocols of greeting the individual guests and seating them according to status. Of course, the Nazarene and his fisherman entourage could not be given seats of honor. That would be an insult to my more deserving guests. Conversation would need to wait until the dinner was over when we could more effectively mingle.

No one noticed when she entered my home, but it must have been early. Her head was covered, and the crowd was unusually diverse, making such an intrusion possible. She made her presence known shortly after he arrived. The sound of breaking glass and the intense smell of perfume drew the attention of everyone in the room. She had positioned herself at his feet, emptying the full bottle of perfume onto them. She knelt there, weeping openly, and kissing his feet. The room went silent, except for the sound of her sobbing. All eyes were on the Nazarene and the still unknown woman. Then she removed her head covering, loosened her hair and began to wipe his feet with it, kissing them again and again. I was mortified! Everyone recognized the harlot who was making a spectacle of herself in my home, in front of my guests! My horror was quickly replaced with anger at her audacity, yet the expression on the face of the Nazarene was unmistakable. He was receiving her as if she were an honorable woman. As I made my way over to take control of the situation, my mind began to analyze the moment. A prophet would have known what kind of a woman she was. Her brazen act had exposed him. My moment had arrived!  She deliberately kept her eyes lowered as I towered over her.  She just knelt there, still weeping, still kissing his feet. Servants stood by, waiting for the order to remove her, but I hesitated, somehow mesmerized by the spectacle.

“Simon, I have something to tell you.”  The voice of the Nazarene broke the silence.

I forced my eyes to move from the woman to meet his gaze. I always looked people in the eyes when I spoke with them. As someone trained to read the facial expressions of people, I could see the change in his. Now directed at me, it had lost much of its tenderness. Passion burned in his eyes, along with a solemn strength revealed in his body language. I held his gaze, but with unexpected difficulty.

“Tell me, teacher.”  My voice betrayed the tension that was diminishing my position of authority. I was not in control, although I was trying hard to maintain the illusion.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

I was well aware of the tactic that the teacher was using. From a debate standpoint, this was a wise move on his part. I was now obligated to answer his question, and I knew I was trapped. The answer was obvious, and it supported the point that he would inevitably make. There, in front of everyone, I was on the defensive.

“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”  I hedged slightly, my mind racing as I tried to find a way to regain control of the conversation.

“You have judged correctly.”  The Nazarene still held my eyes and a slight smile graced his features before he returned his gaze to the prostrate woman.  He was well aware of who and what she was, yet he still looked upon her as if she was a woman of honor. I tried to find a way to turn that fact to my advantage, but he was still on the offensive.

“Do you see this woman?”  His voice was growing more assertive as he stood to face me. He let the question hang in the air until I turned my eyes to her. What a sight she was there on my floor; her sins exposed, her face tear-stained, her eyes cast down, kneeling at his feet while I stood over her. Suddenly, I felt small. It was irrational. Simply put, I was righteous, and she was unrighteous. This feeling did not make sense, but still, I felt myself shrinking.

When my eyes returned to him, he continued, “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.”  His voice strengthened as he spoke words that seemed to penetrate my soul, “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

With that, he knelt and lifted the woman’s chin, holding it there until she summoned the courage to look him in the eyes.

“Your sins are forgiven,” he announced, clearly intending for everyone in the room to hear his words. I was speechless, but variations of the same question could be heard throughout the room.

“Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus gave no response to the murmuring, as his focus was still on the woman.

“Your faith has saved you; Go in peace.”  He took her hand as he stood, and raised her to her feet. He wiped the tears from her cheeks, smiled tenderly, and placed a single kiss on her forehead before walking her to the door. When she dropped her chin, he deliberately raised it back up, gave her a reassuring look, and spoke something to her that we couldn’t hear. With that, she left my house.

The smell of perfume still hung in the air, as he turned to face the still silent crowd. He walked back to where he had been seated and raised his glass. Looking directly at me, he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for they will be satisfied.”  He placed special emphasis on the word “will”. Then he smiled at me and sat down, turning his attention to those around him.

My well-trained servants broke the tension in the room by bringing platters of food and bottles of wine. Some served the guests with great flourish, while others began the entertainment with lively music. I have never appreciated them as much as I did at that moment.

Gradually the conversation returned, the lingering smell of perfume dissipated, and the spirits of my guests lifted. I did not speak to my most anticipated guest again that evening. I was much too shaken by the events that had transpired. All of my careful preparation had been destroyed by one unforeseen moment. He, however, had never lost control of the situation, and I could not help but admire his shrewd intellect and steadfast composure. Clearly, he was the winner of this first encounter. I wondered if there would be another one. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to face him again. An encounter with Jesus of Nazareth was just too unpredictable, even for me.

A few weeks have passed since that night, and I still lie awake in the darkness analyzing each moment. I am still undecided about this man’s identity. Most of the Chief priests and Pharisees are seeking ways to silence him, but I steer clear of such conversations. My thirst is for truth, my hunger for knowledge, and I will not take a stand until I am satisfied.

(Biblical Reference:  Luke 7:36-50, Matthew 5:6)

 

Featured Image By Andrew Neel

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Writer for the King