1 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.
2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.
3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?”
4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.
5 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?”
6 And they could not reply to this.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [NRSA]
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
They were watching him…
The scene for this healing and subsequent parable is the home of a prestigious leader’s home. A strange gathering of political and religious folks, Jesus, and man with an extreme case of swelling, edema. No doubt the man who was likely in obvious pain and discomfort was seated next to Jesus.
Not only was this a test, a setup, to entrap Jesus. It was not likely the man with the swelling was family or friends with any of the invited guests.
Have you been to a dinner party where name tags are placed at each table. It is typically a great deal of work to prepare such an occasion. There are honored guests that are seated near the front progressing to those who are lesser known or are invited for reasons of being polite and respectful of the occasion. Jesus has a favored place with a less honorable guest. It is a great scene for a Jesus conversation.
We have a collection of parables that Jesus will share throughout the dinner party, but they are all center around the honor, respect, and approval.
For the majority of those gathered there were many preparations made for the gathering. What to wear? Who to bring as their plus one? Anticipating who would be at the gathering and what conversations might lead to possibilities in the marketplace and in the social standing of the community.
This was a Sabbath power dinner. And the community leaders want to see how Jesus would react. And so also, Jesus is watching and listening. Perceiving the trap that was being set, Jesus’s first action is to heal the man who was ill and send him on his way. Jesus had been healing and teaching and God’s power had been making the establishment look bad and threatened their power in the community. Jesus was a problem. The healing on the Sabbath was the evidence needed to call for the “Levitical Bureau of Investigation” to complete their dossier on this troublemaker out of their way.
The commandment that to keep the Sabbath holy was simple and over time 39 categories of defined to help explain what keeping the Sabbath meant:
- 1. Carrying
- 2. Burning
- 3. Extinguishing
- 4. Finishing
- 5. Writing
- 6. Erasing
- 7. Cooking
- 8. Washing
- 9. Sewing
- 10. Tearing
- 11. Knotting
- 12. Untying
- 13. Shaping
- 14. Plowing
- 15. Planting
- 16. Reaping
- 17. Harvesting
- 18. Threshing
- 19. Winnowing
- 20. Selecting
- 21. Sifting
- 22. Grinding
- 23. Kneading
- 24. Combing
- 25. Spinning
- 26. Dyeing
- 27. Chain-stitching
- 28. Warping
- 29. Weaving
- 30. Unraveling
- 31. Building
- 32. Demolishing
- 33. Trapping
- 34. Shearing
- 35. Slaughtering
- 36. Skinning
- 37. Tanning
- 38. Smoothing
- 39. Marking
The practice of “Keeping the Sabbath” had shifted from what we do to honor God into a prohibition of what dishonor’s God.
Jesus askes those who have prepared the setup, power lunch on the Sabbath: Is there a law against doing good on the Sabbath? Is it better to do good or do evil on the Sabbath? Is it lawful to cure someone on the Sabbath? The tennis ball is volleyed into their court.
Jesus returns the serve first by healing the man and removing the key evidence from the table by sending the man home, made well.
Jesus also asks for the affirmation of his actions from those who have placed him on trial. How can they say it’s acceptable to do evil, much less on the Sabbath?
Jesus shares the first parable in his question about the ox in the ditch. Who of you would leave you ox in the ditch until after sundown and return in the dark of night to retrieve you ox, donkey, or child until the Sabbath was over? “I’m sorry old Blue, we will be back in the morning because it would require us to break at least three Sabbath laws.” No, you get to work and call it a necessity.
The first lesson is using God’s laws with difference and preference based on situational ethics and personal gain or threat. Jesus is challenging the established interpretations of “Keeping the Sabbath” and restoring the original purpose of the law.
Jesus does not throw out the law, Jesus completes the law. This is not an invitation to throw out the law, rather to recall why laws are given in the first place. Doing good for God on the Sabbath honor’s God, “watch” as he heals the suffering man’s condition. Jesus restores the original reason for the law, devoting ourselves to God and God’s work. Don’t focus on remembering the 39 ways to behave or restrain yourself, remember the one commandment to refrain from our work to share in the works of God.
Jesus heals on the Sabbath at least seven occasions. Something simple had become clouded and convoluted. Sabbath was made to rest with God, not to work on keeping rules. Think how much time and energy WORK was being investing in keeping rules that were focuses on our actions rather than on God’s.
Back to the dinner party. When we are invited to an important dinner or party.
- Why do we attend? To celebrate those giving the party? A holiday, a wedding? Some occasion for celebration?
- When does it become, instead a social measuring? An opportunity for networking?
Do we prepare ourselves to be seen by our neighbors or by God? If God is at the party, I think I would rather dress for God than the eyes of the group. Our society is driven by what we will wear, eat, and present ourselves to the world.
Think of social media. What picture to use as a profile phone? The one where we have been out working in the yard, all hot and sweaty, or some older photos from a few years ago, when the camera captured our very best side with favor?
What is our Focus? If the dinner party, work interview, or social occasion is about business in the world in which we live and work, we know the proverb from Erasmus, “Clothes Make the Man” and we best look and be our best for the world to embrace, hire, and befriend us. But when it’s an invitation for Sabbath, an invite to rest with God, who are we trying to fool or impress?
Jesus continues to say, “When you host a party” don’t invite those who you want to be invited to their homes. When it comes to God, using the opportunities to celebrate God, don’t make them about yourselves, your social standing, your place in the world, unless your true intentions are of this world!
We might want to dismiss this teaching opportunity off by saying we just don’t go to such parties and dinners and there is no nugget of application from this passage. But recall this occasion is not as much about a party or a dinner, than it is how we keep the Sabbath.
We are tempted to think about days past when less commerce was done on Sunday’s but that is emphasizing the laws and rules over the communion with God and the People of God. This passage is not justification for break the rules, it is for remembering what God wants from us.
- Today is a great day for fellowship with God and one another
- Today is a great day to talk and listen to God in prayer
- Today is a great day for worship of God
- Today is a great day to place our worry, fears, responsibilities, strengths and weakness at God’s feet and be at home with God.