In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’d rather be the man with dropsy, in pain and humiliated, than the Pharisees at this dinner party. The man with dropsy knows what he is. He can feel it and see it. And the world knows what he is, too. He can’t fake it. He is not one of the beautiful, popular kids. He is a loser. He is alone. He is afraid.
But Jesus steps in and offers relieve. He asks the Pharisees if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They are silent. They won’t answer the question because the answer is obvious and they don’t like it. It is like asking certain people if it is okay to pray to Allah. They don’t like the question because it exposes the violence their philosophy has done to God’s Word.
The man with dropsy is silent too. But his silence is different. He is not being rude or combative. He is listening. Every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God is precious. He is waiting. Jesus heals him and lets him go. He is like an ox that had fallen into a pit. He is like a dog on a chain that has wrapped himself around a chair and can’t get loose. The Pharisees figure it is just a sign of his own stupidity, that that dog brought it on himself and deserves to pull at a chain that is effectually a foot long. They don’t even try to guide him back around the twisting way he came. It is too far gone, too late. But Jesus steps up and unhooks the chain with no fuss at all. The man with dropsy neither has to live with it or go back and undo it himself. He is unhooked, set free, in an instant.
Thus the state of fallen man: We go twisting through the legs of the chair searching for a moment’s pleasure while tied to the Law. The Law is not bad. It keeps us from getting hurt. It keeps us safe. But it can’t untangle us. It can’t make us free. In these delayed days, while waiting for the end, some have thought that the Law was the answer. The idea is that if we could learn to live with the Law we could fix our lives and find favor with God. It seems to work. There are principles and benefits within the Law. Treat your neighbors kindly, don’t steal, don’t cheat on your wife, and your life will be smoother. You will even be respected, to some degree, by the other dogs. But you won’t be free. And make one mistake, show one instant’s weakness, and you’ll be tangled up again with the Pharisee’s ocking your stupidity. It can’t be that something is wrong with their program, so there must be something wrong with you.
They are right. There is something wrong with you: sin. The problem is not that you are basically a good person who sometimes does bad things or makes mistakes. The problem is that you are a bad person who is very good at covering it up.
The solution is easy. Repent. Confess your sins, your twisting self-seeking ways that have caused these problems, your shameful behavior and your lies. Quit yipping and begging. And let Jesus take it all away. Be lost in His self-sacrifice in your place. Die in His crucifixion. Be humbled in His atoning death. And be exalted in His resurrection, welcomed home by the Father, full of forgiveness and mercy. Kiss the hand that unhooks the chain and live.
Find solace in His soothing words of love in the Holy Scriptures. Find confidence and hope in the Absolution. Find nourishment and strength in His Body and Blood, His self-uniting and opening of heaven to you in that Holy meal. He has not abandoned you or forgotten you. And you, baptized into Him, are no dog. You are a son, a prince, an adored and beautiful Bride washed in Blood. Your scarred King, who was slain but who lives, who gave His life to rescue you from damnation, He awaits. He is eager for you. He loves you. You are free.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana