Why was a man with dropsy in the home of this prominent Pharisee? The most likely explanation is that the prominent Pharisee is using this man as a prop to see how Jesus will respond. It is a Sabbath, and at this point in history, the religious leaders of the day had developed a list of do’s and don’ts in how to appropriately observe the Sabbath. Would Jesus observe the customs of the day? Somehow, the religious leaders had determined that healing a person on the Sabbath would be a blatant act of work and should not be tolerated on the Sabbath. Kind of a crazy idea… that would be as crazy as developing the custom that you should not feed a hungry person on a Sunday…
Here’s the deeper problem: in the name of serving God, this Pharisee lost sight of people and treated them with disrespect. They cared more about their own position, their own ways, their own authority… The Pharisee brought an ailing man into his home to serve as a prop – that’s disrespect. In the name of respecting God, disrespecting people is insane. Jesus wants no part of it. Inviting Jesus into your home is to learn from him. “Lord, Come to My Messy Home.” Inviting Jesus into your home, and then having the audacity to use and abuse other people by disrespecting them and treating them less than equal is crazy making. To embrace Jesus is to embrace the values of Jesus. Jesus was invited to eat at the house of this particular Pharisee… Luke 14:1… “he was being carefully watched.”
The Pharisee is like a lot of the world, the reason I think Jesus was being watched is not to pounce all over him, but to test him to see if he will conform to their ways. Would Jesus fit in? I suspect that the last thing the Pharisee expected was to learn something, he quite likely was confident in his own traditions…so Jesus is watched to see if he will join them….
I know what its like to be watched, so does this church. Any Church really, any Christian. The community is watching. The community is watching Seeds of Hope on Thursdays. Can I be trusted, are we approachable, many folks in this community are asking if what we are doing on Thursday evenings at JJ Fryes is valuable, is it good, is it worthwhile, wondering if they will fit, wondering if they dare to be vulnerable… every few weeks somebody contacts me that has been watching… Being carefully watched is not a surprise, Jesus was always carefully watched, he still is. What really matters is what people are expecting… What really matters if people are looking to Jesus thinking he might be able to make a difference, or are they like this Pharisee, intrigued by the Lord, but not wanting to give up any of their patterns, any of the traditions…
Some folks have no intention of changing their patterns, they have not hit bottom and they don’t perceive a need, or at least they think that they can find peace and contentment on their own. The Pharisee invited Jesus into his house to eat expecting Jesus to conform to the norms/the patterns.
The first test is the man with dropsy. How will Jesus treat him? In the stories that follow, it is clear that if the host really understood the ways of God, this man with dropsy would be seated in a place of honor – he would be shown respect and love, he would be made to feel like he was a real person and not a prop. The most important people are those who have less advantages… we are called to serve those who have less advantages than we do, that’s the way of Christ… the man with dropsy is to be loved…
Jesus was being watched, but he turned the table on the host and asked a simple question: Luke 14:3.
While we are watching Jesus, it turns out he is the one that is watching us, testing us, challenging us… Why is it a hard question to ask about healing on the Sabbath? You know how a lot of people justify their behavior? They never ask themselves if what they are doing is right or not. If you do not want to change your ways, don’t ask Jesus into your life. Jesus will ask questions, he will challenge your assumptions. You will be confronted with the need to change. This is only a hard question because Jesus is blending our thoughts and behavior…. It is a pointed question because if the Pharisee says it is lawful, then the test unravels and they will suddenly have to admit their tradition is misguided. But if they say no, what an absurd position.
“But they remained silent.” The answer was obvious. So Jesus healed the man with dropsy and sent him away. Healing him was merciful. Sending him away was even more merciful – he wasn’t wanted, so don’t put him through more misery of being disrespected by the Pharisee. It’s good to protect people. You would think that being invited into the home of a Pharisee would be a safe place for this man with dropsy, but the irony that Jesus had to send him away to protect him from humiliation.
May our homes be a safe place. Any time we gather, may it be a safe place, a place where people can be affirmed, loved, uplifted…
Jesus continues to press the point: “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”
The Pharisees taught and demanded much of others, but they made exceptions for themselves. Jesus now takes the role of teacher. The days lesson: consistency. Do not hold others to standards that you don’t even hold yourself. Jesus is giving those gathered at the meal an opportunity to hear truth and to learn. The Pharisee wanted Jesus to conform to his ways, but now Jesus turns it around and challenges the Pharisee to learn something himself, a better way. Jesus may have been invited into this home with impure motives, yet he takes this as an opportunity to teach what he values, the ways of God. Obviously Jesus still has in mind this man with dropsy. In talking with the other guests, Jesus is simply pressing home the obvious: If you have a son, or even an oxen, that falls into a well on the Sabbath you would “work” to get it out, without any hesitation or agonizing reflection. If, then, you would come to the aid of your son or livestock, why should Jesus not be allowed to heal the sick?
The silence which results is instructive, Luke 14:6. If there was no willingness to discuss the matter, they are not going to learn. Silence is a passive form of rebellion… the way of Jesus and the way of the Pharisee is clashing. When you invite Jesus into your house, there is nothing wrong if it is messy, if you don’t have it all together, but the key is to be willing to learn, to change, to learn from Jesus by sitting at his feet. To be a Christian at it’s core is to be a student, sitting at the feet of Jesus. How you treat other people is important to Jesus, being consistent so that your self-expectations, your behavior matches the demands you place on others.
Even though Jesus question is met with silence, Jesus continues. Another opportunity for them to learn, another observation of how they could do better. Again, I believe he has this man with dropsy in mind as he watches the guests mingle. And they jockey for a place of honor.
As the guests were mingling and being seated, there was a hierarchy that played itself out reflected in the seating arrangement… Places at the table were something like “chairs” in a band: first chair” “second chair,” “third chair,”. Band members work towards “first chair.” The Pharisees who attended this meal seemed to think that one’s table position not only reflected one’s position, but may create it. The guests jockeyed for a position at meal time. It’s funny thinking that the Pharisee honestly thought Jesus would join in the child’s game, jockeying for a better place. One person said of this scene, it’s “like musical chairs, except there was no music.”
The games people play, the posturing, the antics… Even after all Jesus had said, they still did not get it. How much easier it is to let other people win. The guests were acting like children wanting to be first in line to go out the door for recess. It was nearly time to eat. The guests would soon be seated. Everyone began milling about, just happening to be standing beside a chair of honor, like musical chairs. How subtle it was all supposed to be. Jesus saw it all, and spoke to it.
I wonder where Jesus ended up sitting. While the others jockeyed for position, Jesus sat back, watching. When He finally arrived at the table, there would likely only have been one place left—the seat of lowest honor. How wise Jesus was to dismiss the man with dropsy so he did not have to be humiliated once again. I expect that if the man with dropsy would have still been in the house, Jesus would have let him have the lowest place at the table, and Jesus would have gone to eat where the Pharisee would have put the man with dropsy: the pig trough in the corner. Jesus would jockey for the lowest position, so that others would be elevated. Jesus came to serve.
The story Jesus tells is a learning opportunity. If you seat yourself in a high position to be humiliated if you are displaced, but if you seat yourself in a lower position the honor of being moved up. Luke 14:11, Jesus underscores a principle which underlies His teaching: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The way up is the way down.
One of the fundamental teachings of the Bible is to make a difference to those around you who have less power, less position, less resources, to put others before yourself, even if it costs you something…. In today’s scripture, a man with dropsy becomes the reason for a series of instructions from Jesus to those who were gathered in the home of a prominent Pharisee. When you invite Jesus into your home, learn from him and what he values, put aside your own patterns and behavior, learn to be consistent so that what you expect of yourself and what you expect of others is one in the same. Become a student of Christ, and be willing to take a lower position for the sake of honoring others. Amen.