One of the accusations levelled at Jesus during his earthly ministry was that (in contrast to the ascetic John the Baptist) he was a “glutton and a drunkard”:
‘For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’ (Luke 7:33-35)
Now, I think we can take it as read that this accusation was (to put it mildly) an exaggeration: a defamatory slur directed at Jesus’ hanging out with “the wrong crowd” rather than an impartial assessment of his behaviour.
But, reading Deuteronomy 21 this morning, it struck me that there is a darker undercurrent to this accusation thrown at Jesus by the self-righteous. Deuteronomy 21 includes the following passage (a somewhat troubling one for the parent of three sons!):
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.‘ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
In other words, those describing Jesus as “a glutton and a drunkard” were not making a random accusation: they were implying that he was a “rebellious son” who deserved to be stoned to death.
Indeed, the very next paragraph in Deuteronomy reads:
When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
– a passage that was applied to Jesus’ death on the cross by the early church (Acts 5:30, 10:39; 1 Peter 2:24). This in turn was a classic example of appropriating an insult: “You say Jesus was a rebellious son? Under God’s curse? That’s only because he took upon himself our (and your) rebelliousness, and bore our (and your) curse.”