St. Luke 14:1-11
September 22, 2013 A+D
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” is a rhetorical question so the silence of the Pharisees isn’t that surprising. It should be obvious to anyone who reads the prophets that the Lord desires mercy and not sacrifice. The Law is fulfilled by love. It is a rhetorical question, but it is not a stupid or a trick question. It is rhetorical, not gimmicky.
And some rhetorical questions carry a moral imperative for agreement. When the leader of the cadence sings: “Am I right or wrong?” he already knows that he is right and that we know that he is right. But we’re all supposed to respond: “You’re right!” It is a chance for us to add our voice to his. Here, too, there is a moral imperative. When the Lord asks: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” we most certainly do not say: “Who cares?” or “That is a bad question.” The question calls us to align ourselves with the cause of mercy. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” requires a resounding, “It is! It absolutely is lawful. It is meet, right, and salutary to heal on the Sabbath. For the Law is good and the Law is met in the Lord’s desire for mercy.”
In contrast, the silence of the Pharisees is cowardly and damning. They refuse to play along. They refuse to confess. They were watching Him carefully, that is, in this case, with evil intent. Yet they refused to engage with Him. Their hearts were hard.
Our Lord uses the same word “watch carefully,” which is one word in Greek but two in English, a few chapters later. In Luke 17 we read “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God comes not with careful watching.” With what does the Kingdom of God come? It comes by hearing.
The Pharisees watch for their own advantage, for the Lord to slip up, to make a mistake regarding the complicated Mosaic and Rabbinic code. They watch, but they do not hear. Since they do not hear, they do not believe, and since they do not believe, they cannot confess. They remain silent. May God in His mercy spare us from the same fate!
Their silence doesn’t stop the Lord. He heals the man whether they like it or not. And then He asks another question: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” The answer is “None of us. None of us would fail to immediately pull a son or an ox out of a well even it was a Sabbath day.” But again they are silent.
There is some poetry here in Luke. The man who was healed was healed of water. We don’t actually know what that means. The Medieval interpreters thought it was dropsy which just means swelling. Today it would probably be called edema. Whatever the specific affliction, it is called water in Greek. The man had water and it was killing him. He was drowning on dry land – almost like he had fallen into a well. So if you would not leave a son or an ox to suffer on the Sabbath in a well, how could the Lord, whose Law is met in His desire for mercy, leave this man to drown on dry land?
Even as Moses was drawn out of the Nile and certain death, this man was healed because God has joined Himself to us and our cause. He has taken up our flesh for this purpose. As Noah and his family were likewise saved from the killing waters of the flood, this man was also spared for the Lord entered into Mary’s water and lived within her womb until it was time for that water to spill and for Him to come forth and be crucified. How could it not be Lawful then, how could mercy and compassion, rescue from death, not be fully in accordance with God’s lawful will? The Lord was born under the Law to fulfill the Law and His people all love His Law.
We tend to focus on the cleansing aspect of Baptism. That is Baptism colored by the healing of Namaan and by the meaning of the word “Baptism.” But the Baptism of Jesus is more violent. It marks Him as the Sacrifice. It propels Him into the desert and into the hands of Satan. His compassion is not the bleeding heart hand-wringing of Hollywood celebrities mourning over pandas and dolphins. Rather, His compassion is like unto that which causes a man to throw himself upon a grenade. It is costly. It is painful. But it is more than altruism. It is Divine mercy for Our Lord throws Himself on the grenade to save not His brothers but His enemies. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 6: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Baptism is not just cleansing. It is also death. It is separation. It sets Enmity between Satan and the baptized. This man needs rescue from death by water. The Lord steps in, stands between him and death. He heals Him as though He were drawing him out of a well and into the light. Is it Lawful to do such a thing on the Sabbath? Absolutely! It is Lawful. It is full of the Law for this is the very will of God and the meaning of the saying: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.
By water, the Lord delivers from death by water. By food, the Lord undoes the curse brought by eating. By dying and rising, the Lord ushers in life and immortality and makes His enemies not only His friends but His most intimate companions, even His bride. It is Lawful.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.