October 12, 2014
St. Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The healing of the man with dropsy is the third and final Sabbath healing in Luke’s Gospel. The first time the Lord healed on the Sabbath the Pharisees were outraged, the second time they were ashamed, and now, just weeks before they bribe Judas and arrange a kangaroo court to condemn Jesus, they are silent. In some ways this is because His teaching is irrefutable. It is also because their course is set and they know what they will do.
The Lord also knows what they will do, but this does not stop Him. He does not flee from the threats of Herod or Pharisee, but He marches on toward Jerusalem to fulfill His Father’s will and along the way His compassion causes Him to heal a man with dropsy.
He asks: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” It is a rhetorical question. They don’t have to answer. He doesn’t care what they think and I don’t think He even cares if it is lawful or not. He sees the need. The man before Him is suffering from dropsy. He has the means to relieve the man’s suffering and if that should cost Him His life, if that should mean that He be betrayed and beaten, flogged and crucified, forsaken by His Father and endure an eternity of Hell for sins that He did not commit, sobeit. The Lord has compassion. He is moved by mercy. This healing will cost Him His life, but He doesn’t care.
That is the point of the next rhetorical question: “Which of you, having a son, or even an ox, that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath will not immediately pull him out?” Now they are incapable of responding. Our text translates this as “they could not reply,” more literally “They had no strength or ability to reply.” The first time they chose to be silent. The second time they were rendered silent by the Holy Spirit and became like dead men.
The Lord doesn’t care about their legal loopholes or excuses or complicated ethical debates. This isn’t about them. It is about a man with dropsy and a Man who would rather die upon a cross than walk away unscathed and let the devil have the sinners that he deserves. The Lord looks upon sinners the way a mother looks upon her child in the cancer ward or more accurately, like a mother looks upon her child rightly convicted of murder and awaiting execution on death row. He knows we are guilty, but He loves us and is desperate to save us.
The Lord has been watching the Pharisees more closely than they have been watching Him. Despite their hatred of Him, He still loves them and would save them. They might be dumber than oxen, not even knowing their master or wanting out of the well, but He patiently plots their salvation, and His heart breaks no less for them than it does for His mother and His disciples and us.
Despite that, He will not force Himself up them. If they will remain willfully silent, if they will ignore the suffering around them, if they will not bear witness to the goodness of the Sabbath Rest which God has won for His people then they will lose their ability to speak forever. There is a pleading and a warning here. Do not remain silent in the presence of God’s grace. Do not ignore the suffering around you. And consider not only the physical but also the spiritual suffering and the burdened consciences that do not know God’s grace.
No one will ever hate you from Hell for having told him the truth while he was alive, no matter how much he hates you now. But someone could hate you from Hell for having failed to tell him the truth, for not warning him, before it was too late. And what truth is that? This: The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. This is a shocking truth that is scarcely known even in the Church. The Lord gave the Sabbath to man that man might rest and receive God’s gifts, but we in our pride turned it into something that we do for God.
The perversion of the Sabbath by the Pharisees, that we would earn God’s favor by pious acts, is the common misunderstanding of worship still in our day. We have thought worship is our service to God, that that we come to Church to do God a favor because He wants us to.
That is a demonic twisting of what God gave in the Sabbath and of what God gives now in the Sacrament of the Altar. There is a kind of truth in it, but it is a twisted and perverse truth that gets everything out of order and leads to despair. God gave the Sabbath not for the people to work, but for them to rest. He gives us His Word and His Body and Blood not as an obligation, not that we should come to be lectured and eat tasteless food, but that we might commune with God in Word and Sacrament. It is not that we might serve Him, but that He would serve us. He doesn’t need anything from us. We need everything from Him. The main character of God’s service to men in worship in both the Old and the New Testament is the forgiveness of sins. God gathers us together in order to bless and heal us.
Asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not is really just another way of asking whether or not it is lawful for God to forgive sins. Is it lawful for God to be merciful? Is it lawful to punish His innocent Son in our place? Is it lawful to give us wages we did not earn, to feed us with food we did not work for, to accept our praise and our prayers even though we are not worthy? That is what is at stake. That is what the Pharisees actually hate. They don’t really care about people with dropsy. They are afraid of sinners getting off the hook for free never realizing that they are also sinners in need of grace. Their eye is evil because God is good.
The Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t care if it is lawful. He is moved by compassion. He loves Pharisees. He lays down His life to declare sinners righteous.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.