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To Heal or Not to Heal

September 01, 2019
By Rev. David French

In today's Gospel reading we find Jesus attending a meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee. Pharisees often invited a variety of people to Sabbath dinner in order to stimulate interesting conversation and debate. It was a community thing, known for welcoming even the uninvited to come and observe. One member of the community who came to observe this particular Sabbath dinner was a man who had dropsy.

This man with dropsy puts in motion a conflict that Jesus had faced on other Sabbath days – that is, to heal or not to heal. You see, the Pharisees had come to the conclusion that healing was work. Since work was forbidden on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath was illegal. The crowds, those being healed, however, had a different opinion. If healing on the Sabbath was a sin, why would God honor that sin by healing the victim?

Jesus responded to the experts in the law and the Pharisees by asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” The experts and Pharisees remain silent. The threat of the crowd, no doubt, was a factor. Jesus healed the man and then pointed out the foolishness of their thinking. He said to them, “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 problem that many Pharisees had was that they were worried about the appearance of keeping the Laws of Moses and understood the praise of the people as proof that they were. They reasoned that if they prospered here on earth, God was pleased with them and would reward their good works in the next life. The problem, of course, is that they were trying to work their way into heaven, an idea that Jesus will soon correct.  

As guests were choosing the places of honor at the dinner table, Jesus used the opportunity to teach them about the true nature of heaven. He told a parable about people choosing places at a wedding banquet. The first part of the story speaks of people so arrogant they assume they deserved a place of honor. When the host comes, he asks these people to surrender their place to others, and the arrogant are humiliated as they move to the lower place. Then there are those who humbly wait in the lowest place for the host to assign them places. When the host comes, He honors these humble people by giving them the places of honor.

Even if there were no spiritual meaning to this story, this would still be a good lesson on manners: consider others before yourself. But, of course, there is a spiritual meaning that goes beyond good manners. Jesus often compared heaven to a wedding feast. In fact, many places in the Bible refer to heaven as the eternal celebration of the wedding of Christ to His bride, the Church.

The guests who think more of themselves than they should are those who believe they deserve a place in heaven, at least in part because of their own “good works.” When Jesus comes to judge the world, He will tell those arrogant people that they must surrender their place to others. That is, because they relied on themselves for their place in heaven, they lose their place in heaven.

The humble guests who trust the host to seat them are those who believe that they deserve nothing but punishment, both here on earth and forever in eternity. But by the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they humbly wait for Jesus to show them to their places. And when Jesus comes, He calls them friends and gives them a place of honor. The point? “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

After Jesus spoke to the guests, He spoke another parable to His host. He said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” While it’s true that the parable of the wedding banquet makes good sense in this world as well as the next, it’s also true that this next parable, at least in this world, makes no sense at all. Why would anyone entertain people who can’t, at least, return a favor? I mean, we all know life is all about give and take, cause and effect, payment and repayment. If I do you a favor, it’s understood, you owe me one. We all know that’s how it works out there in the so-called “real world.”

And yet, while that may be the way the so called “real world” works, it’s certainly not the way God works. When God invites guests to His wedding banquet, He invites those who are spiritually poor, crippled, lame, and blind. In fact, He invites those who are spiritually dead, those who have no way in this life or the next to repay Him even for the invitation. And yet, mercifully He invites us to come to the wedding.

He invites us with the same words that He first gave to the apostles and the prophets - the Words that they wrote for all generations to come - the words of Holy Scripture, God’s own inerrant and infallible Word. With His words, God tells us that our invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb did not come without a price, that is, what it cost Him to redeem worthless sinners like you and me, making us His own priceless children.

And as you well know, God did not pay the price for the wedding feast with gold or silver, but with the holy and precious blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus the promised “Christ” of God. Remember, when we see Jesus lying in the manger, when we see His suffering and dying on the cross, we are seeing the payment God made so that we, you and I and all of humanity, who are not just spiritually poor, crippled, lame, or blind nobodies like those in our parable, we come to Him spiritually dead.

It is the faith created by the Holy Spirit alone that opens ours eyes to God’s gift of life eternal as we trust His Son for the forgiveness of our sins. That is, it is Christ who makes us worthy in God’s sight to receive an invitation to His wedding feast in the heavenly banquet hall.

Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Nowhere are those words more deeply fulfilled than in the saving work of Jesus Christ. As God reveals through St. Paul, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May God in His mercy grant the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord be always in your heart and on your lips, that you also by faith might know and live in His forgiveness and the eternal healing it brings.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 14:1-14