No, that’s not a typo. I thought the same thing myself when I saw it in Luke 11:37. It’s one of those phrasings that when you see it in scripture you go “that doesn’t sound right”.
Our imagination will actually render a table, which is how Da Vinci ended up with the scene in his painting The Last Supper. But when you understand this unique turn of phrase, the picture at the end of Luke 11 looks very different.
What the Heck Is a Triclinium?
A Roman dining room during this era looked nothing like Da Vinci’s painting.
It was called a triclinium because it was composed of three couches centered around a table (picture your coffee table if you saw the legs of it). A pretty standard setup for the time would have been a single middle couch, typically where the host would sit, and then a couch to the host's left and right.
The couch would have been more like a giant cushion that guests “reclined” at with their heads facing inward toward the table, and their feet outward toward the wall.
The place of honor was typically on the center couch and seated to the left of the host. This is where Judas was sitting that night in the upper room.
Like a Boss
Jesus walked into every situation wielding two very powerful weapons; the authority of God, and obedience to God. So when he’s invited to dine with a particular Pharisee and his guests — he doesn’t waste the opportunity.
He’s barely seated before they start judging everything about him.
“The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner” (Luke 11:38). The Pharisee here isn’t “astonished” because he’s worried about hygiene. Jesus has skipped a “ceremonial” cleansing.
Here comes the authority: “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”.
Ducks in a Woe
At this point, Jesus really starts to lay into all of them with a series of “woes”.
From verses 42-52 Jesus goes after everything from their tithing to their interpretation of Scripture in an attempt to help them see who they’ve become. A lawyer tries to stop the barrage by stepping into the line of fire.
Maybe he thinks it will quiet the room so he says, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” — it does little to break Jesus’ stride.
I’m reading along and cheering Jesus on and then I’m suddenly stopped dead in my tracks by a thought…
Woe number three for the Pharisees is an odd one: “…you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it”.
The Old Testament had a law that said coming in contact with a grave made you unclean. Jesus is saying “the people who listen to you (Pharisees) are unclean, and they have no idea you’re leading them astray”.
That part shook me to my core. Everyone has their own opinions and interpretations; myself included, but I suddenly realized a critical step I might be overlooking while trying to lead others.
Test all things, hold fast to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
The thought that stopped me dead in my reading was that I pictured Jesus sitting across the table from me, pointing to all the things I’ve done or said that could potentially have led others astray; and I know one day he will do exactly that.
The Bridled Heart
There is some comfort found in James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
If you’re having some of the same thoughts I just shared with you, here is the only advice I can offer you:
1. “Be not rash with your mouth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
2. “Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16)
3. Jesus is the only one of us who didn’t stumble. So we better be submitting our thoughts and opinions to him before anyone else.