Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 14:1-5 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.
Today I am taking us inside a healing story for a closer look- as we go, try to imagine yourself as one of the people in the room. What do you see? Where are you in the story? Where is God in the story? What might God be trying to speak to you through this story?
The Pharisees had been watching Jesus carefully- tying to find a reason to call him a fraud. He had challenged their interpretation of scripture, their misuse of the law, and their exclusionary practices. He was a charismatic personality with a national following. So they invited him to dinner- in fact the Greek word that the text uses implies that the reason they had invited him to dinner was to test him.
In other words, this was no mere invitation to a meal. Jesus was being set up so the Pharisees could catch him breaking the law; if they could prove him a fraud to the people, they could discredit his authority.
The leader of the Pharisees house is full of prominent people; a black tie affair, and everyone is gathering just outside the formal dining room and buzzing about in their tuxes. Servers- also dressed in black and white- bearing trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres are hardly noticeable. Guests chat about politics and health care and the pros and cons of immigration reform- Jesus is mingling and nibbling from the shrimp cocktail tower, but can't resist taking a piece of bacon-wrapped salmon off of a passing tray. He thanks the server and pops it in his mouth. And as he pulls the toothpick from his lips, a man with "dropsy" steps into his view.
Now, we don’t use the term "dropsy" anymore…, we use 'edema'- a medical condition that, for any number of reasons from congestive heart failure to kidney disease, gathers fluid in the arms and legs. The limbs swell to great proportion; it's very painful, and it rarely goes away, especially under first century medical practices.
Because of his disease the man was an outcast. He was unclean. We've used that word before, but it's important to understand why. In the time of Jesus, (and before) there was a belief that if someone was sick, or disfigured, or had some tragedy strike their family, it was a punishment from God for sin. The thinking was that the in-firmed person must have done something to have incurred this type of suffering... (That sounds ridiculous to us, except the headlines this morning talk about the church of the shooter of the 8 people in Georgia- the church said it was because of the man's sin that he committed that horrific crime.)
The thinking here is that the sick man was in sin; he must have done something that led to this disease, so others needed to keep themselves away from him; first, so they would not fall into the same type of situation that caused God to punish this person.
Second, in order to keep pure. Touching an unclean person meant that the devout Jew would need to go through a lengthy cleansing ritual in order to be restored to community, and who needs that? It's easier to not go near them in the first place.
Because of his condition, the man with dropsy couldn’t work; he wasn't welcome at the temple, wasn't welcomed or even thought of as part of the community... and he wasn't invited to dinner parties at all, much less this party. So what was he doing here at the leader of the Pharisees house?
Like I said, the man with dropsy was probably a plant... he was part of the set up.
According to Jewish law, there was to be no work, including healing, performed on the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.
But the Pharisees knew that while Jesus couldn’t stand to see someone suffer, he also knew the law. Would Jesus go so far as to break one of the ten commandments in front of them?
Jesus of course, is aware of the set up. All eyes are on him- and he knows it. So, he puts the toothpick in his pocket for later, and looks straight into the man’s eyes. No one in the room breathes…
Now Jesus could have just healed the man and been done with it- but instead, he wants the Pharisees to think- to do some theological reflection on the situation.
(I love that Jesus does that. Jesus never does anything with a spirit of “look how stupid you are and you guys are so messed up because you got this part wrong.” That is not the manner of Jesus.)
Jesus has the man with dropsy in an eye lock; but then Jesus looks from the man’s eyes, around the room at those wanting to test him, and his heart aches for them because they don’t understand. He sees their struggle… their desire to be right… their desire to keep God’s laws holy as they understand them- mixed with their desire to be powerful in their own world. So, instead of callously calling them out, he asks them a question- one that will show them the nature of God. “You are all keepers of the law," Jesus says… "Is it against the law to heal someone on the Sabbath or not?”
No one moves a muscle…
So Jesus continues… “Most of us in this room are rabbis- we have wives and children… so let me ask you… if one of your children falls into a well on the Sabbath, or better yet, if one of your animals falls into a well on the Sabbath, what would you do? Would you leave them there, or would you go over and pull him to safety?“
And people around the room start fidgeting, and loosening collars and letting out small concert hall type coughs, and not only did they not answer, they couldn’t answer. The Pharisees had nothing to say because all of a sudden, the law, that a moment ago was black and white, was turning grey before their eyes. Jesus had forced them to look at what they thought was a hard and fast rule, and to see it differently, through the lens of compassion… from the perspective of love…from the standpoint of practical hands on ministry. Who would leave a loved one suffering at the bottom of a well?
And Jesus waits no longer for interpretation or the law… its time to do ministry… and without another word, he reaches down into that well, puts his arms around the man with dropsy, and pulls him out… he heals him. And everyone in the room stares with open mouths, as the man skips out the front door, laughing and crying at the same time to celebrate a brand new life.
Now answer those questions again. What did you see? Where were you in the story? Where was God in the story? What might God be trying to speak to you through this story?
Scripture gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn about the nature of God, and about our own nature. Take the time to meditate today... to reflect on God's great love for you.