Text: Luke 14:1-14
We have a problem in our Gospel reading today, and the problem is Jesus. At least, Jesus seems to be setup for the problem. Luke records, “One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Problem number one is that Jesus is going to the house of a Pharisee. All of the guests were Pharisees, except Jesus. Their goal was to watch and test Jesus. “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”” That’s problem number two: work on the Sabbath. Healing would constitute work. When God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses, it is recorded, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
This meal was not going to be just any meal. The Pharisees were watching Him. They did what any doubter would do: they put Jesus to the test. As Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, there has been opposition. Now, those watching are watching Jesus carefully, even maliciously, to put Him to the test and to see how He will act. Their intentions are to find something of which to accuse Him. But in the end, Jesus is ultimately testing them and pointing to their own sinful motivations.
Now that the players are in place, it’s time to set the trap for Jesus. A man appeared before those at dinner who had dropsy, a condition of swelling, called edema today. It is caused by water retention in the body. It was considered grotesque because of the disfigurement it caused. One who had dropsy was considered unclean according to Levitical law.
Just by this man appearing, the food and all present would have been considered unclean. Would Jesus expel the man or allow him to enter? Jesus’ first strike was allowing the man to enter the house. By doing so, all those present knew that Jesus did not abide by Levitical law and customs. When Jesus asked those present a question, Jesus began the first of His tests: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Those watching Jesus are asking themselves the same question, and they have given no answer, only silence. This man meant nothing to the Pharisees but meant everything to Jesus.
Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter: they’re not going to help the man because he’s not important to them. Jesus brings it to them on a level which they can understand: a son or an ox. Now that it is someone they’re connected to, will they sit and watch and do nothing, claiming that it’s the Sabbath? Instead of answering Jesus, by acknowledging that what Jesus said is right, they continue to sit and say nothing.
For Jesus, this man with dropsy was someone important to Him, someone whom Jesus loved. He must act immediately – there is no waiting until the Sabbath is over. Jesus heals the man and sends him away healed. Jesus doesn’t wait; He doesn’t delay; He acts because He loves the man.
We are no different than the man with dropsy. We have a need of healing. Sin has infected us and is running rampant in God’s creation, a creation that was once good. Jesus sees us and acts. He does not delay in healing us. He does not delay in restoring us. He does not delay in forgiving us. He does not put off our needs, our pain, or our problems until a later date. This is because Jesus acts out of love on our behalf. He willingly gave His perfect life for our imperfect life. He made a sacrifice which we could not make. He died so that we would live.
What exactly does Jesus do for us? He dies and is hastily buried before the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, He rests in the tomb on the Sabbath for you. He descends into hell as the triumphant Victor of life for you.
It is so unfortunate that the Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. They thought of themselves in a way that set them aside from everyone else, in a way that was superior to everyone else. They were the Pharisees. They were the makers and keepers of the Law. They did not sin. They did not need anything that Jesus came bringing.
It is fortunate for us that 2000 years removed from Jesus, we do not view ourselves like the Pharisees did. What joy there is to know that we are sinners in need of healing, to confess that we are sinners. Wait. We don’t think like that. We don’t think of ourselves as sinners. We tend not to confess our sins because either they aren’t sins or they’re justifiable sins (which just sounds ridiculous, by the way) or we can always point to someone else who is a worse sinner than we are. But there is no sinner worse than I am. There is no sinner that is worse than you. St. Paul knew that and said as much: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” You see, we are all on equal footing because we are all sinners. We are all just as guilty as the next person. Paul quotes from Psalm 14 and 53 when he tells the Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
As Christ goes on to tells of the parable of the wedding feast and seats on honor, we tend to put ourselves in the place of honor, only to find ourselves demoted to the lowest place. That is our sinful pride exerting itself, thinking that we are better than what we truly are. Jesus expanded this idea of taking a lower place into our standing on Judgment Day. He said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” With these words, Jesus teaches us that those who believe they can contribute to their own salvation will hear the words, “Give your place to this person and take the lowest place.” Such people will miss out on the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, those who confess that they deserve eternal punishment for their sin and trust in God’s mercy will hear the words, “Friend, move up higher.” These people will enjoy God’s presence forever.
Jesus Christ can invite us to move up because Jesus Himself took the lowest of all places. His perfect life without sin earned Him the highest place of all, but He did not take it. Instead, He took the lowest place. He took His place under the punishment of the wrath of God. Even though Jesus was perfect in every way, He took the lowest place on the cross. On that cross, He even experienced the forsakenness of hell as He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” By taking on this lowest of all places, Jesus earned the right for us to live forever in the very presence of God.
We know that this is true because God the Father has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead it was just as if God the Father spoke to Jesus and said, “Friend, move up higher.” Jesus Christ became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection assures us all that on the Last Day, Jesus will raise all the dead. Those who arrogantly took the higher places for themselves will hear, “Surrender your place! Go, instead to the lowest place.” Those who recognize their sin and call out to God for forgiveness will hear, “Friend, move up higher! Take your place at My side.”
Jesus Christ who humbled Himself to the lowest depth of the cross is now exalted to the greatest height. He is now preparing the place of honor that He has earned for each of us at His wedding feast. When the time is right, He will come and say to each of His faithful people, “Friend, move up higher.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.