Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Paul Norris, Seminarian
Proverbs 25.6-14; Ephesians 4.1-6; St. Luke 14.1-11
09 October 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was a child in the 1980s, I remember one Sunday after services, my mother was going to make us meatloaf with mashed potatoes for lunch. As we all know the standard recipe for mashed potatoes requires potatoes, salt, pepper, milk, and butter. As my mother was making the mashed potatoes, she realized she did not have any butter. Here’s the problem (and some of you might have figured it out already as you reminisce on your lives in the 1980s or even before then) no grocery stores were open on Sundays! Thankfully, my grandparents were coming over and my mother was able to use the rotary landline telephone to call them and ask them to bring a stick of butter over. I know to some of the young people here this seems weird. Everything is open all the time now. You can eat at any restaurant you want on Sunday after church, well, except if you want a sanctified chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-a. But believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago in America when the only people working on Sundays were Pastors, Police, Firefighters, and hospitals.
If the idea that it was better to have a day of rest on Sundays was strictly observed by American society not too long ago, there is no doubt this was a controversy among the Jews in Jesus’ time. We recall the text of the Third Commandment from Exodus: “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.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
The Third Commandment is not just a law that must be followed. The Third Commandment serves three purposes. Firstly, it is a day of rest. Even before modern labor laws, God was thinking of the welfare of his people and provided them with a day of rest. It was not up to the business owner or your boss to give you the day off. It was God’s Law. This Law was all-encompassing. Even foreigners, slaves, and animals got the day off.
Secondly, it provided a day when God’s people could gather together and hear the Word of God. God gave a day where his people could gather around his Word. It is not good for us to work endlessly to provide food and shelter for our bodies and families without rest. We also need to partake of spiritual food. It made sense. It was the same day for everybody, and no one had to try to schedule a time to gather for Divine Service, it was the same day every week.
The third purpose of the Sabbath law was that it was a clear confession of faith for all the other nations to see. The other nations questioned why Israel took this day of rest so seriously. Israel’s rest on the Sabbath day was a clear confession of God who created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. By honoring the Sabbath law, they were confessing that YHWH is the only Creator God who is to be feared. They were confessing that God would send the Messiah to save the world and give them true spiritual rest. Honoring the Sabbath law was confessing the one true faith while God provided them with physical and spiritual rest. Like all the Holy Ten Commands, God does not give us His Law to hurt us, but instead, his laws are a place of safety and help.
This is the backdrop from which we can understand the narrative in the Gospel reading of the confrontation between Jesus and the lawyers and Pharisees. Jesus is already known for his healing at this point in his earthly ministry. Here is the trap that is laid for Jesus; the lawyers and the Pharisees defined healing as “work” and therefore healing was forbidden on the Sabbath. Somehow, a man with dropsy attends this meal. Dropsy is the name for the disease which is basically the collection of fluid in the body and is usually fatal. Today we would identify this disease as Edema.
This testing is a typical thing the Pharisees would try to do to Jesus. As Admiral Akbar in The Empire Strikes Back says, “It’s a trap!” We know this is a trap set for Jesus, because “… Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14: 3) The text does not mention anyone asking a question or saying anything. Jesus, sensing the trap and the question that is on the lawyers’ and the Pharisees’ minds asks the question for them! And they have no answer! The lawyers and Pharisees remained silent. How could they respond? If they say that it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, then they cannot condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. And, if they say it is not lawful, then perhaps they could be condemned for being heartless and callous for disregarding the suffering of this sick man. But Jesus gives them a firm answer. He heals the dying man and sends him away.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “The spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law.” We are all masters of this concept, even as little children. What did you do when your dad told you to stop touching your sister? Well, if you were anything like me, you got as close as you could without touching her! Hey, I’m following the letter of the law, I’m not actually touching her! The “spirit of the law” is exactly why any good police officer will not stop a vehicle for doing 36 in 35.
But the lawyers and the Pharisees are legalists. A legalist is someone who uses the letter of law to their self-serving advantage. A legalist uses the law to make himself look good, self-righteous and others look bad. A legalist uses the law to keep from doing things he does not want to do. But legalists have it all wrong. They view the law as written so that they can help themselves and not their neighbor. But this is not the truth of God’s Law. Jesus said, “… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39). We know all too well how to help ourselves. What we need to learn is to love and help our neighbors.
Jesus sets the lawyers and Pharisees right. After Jesus heals the man with dropsy, he continues to poke the bear. He asks the legalists, the lawyers, and Pharisees present if they would neglect to save their son or a work animal from certain death on the Sabbath. Of course, they are silent because they know they would. It was lawful to heal on the Sabbath because loving your neighbor is a just commandment of God. But Jesus is not done with the lawyers and the Pharisees. Jesus could have just dropped the mic right there and left the scene knowing he had taught an important lesson to the legalists. Instead, he continues to teach the captive audience about humility.
Don’t promote yourself. Don’t exalt yourself. Instead, wait for someone else to promote you. Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) This was not a new teaching for the lawyers and Pharisees who were familiar with the scriptures. They had heard this very lesson taught to them from the Old Testament reading in Proverbs, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
We are all too familiar with self-promotion. It seems in our world that those who self-promote are the ones exalted by our society as great people. We see it in the backstabbing cutthroat corporate world as people climb over one another to take the important places. We see it on social media. In fact, self-promotion is one of the bedrocks of social media. Facebook and Instagram are places where we can tout our achievements and show the world a highlight reel of our lives. We can self-promote and make ourselves seem much better off than we really are. And, there are so called celebrities whose whole existence is based on self-promotion and no substance.
But Jesus says in the kingdom of God and the Church of Christ there is no place for self-promotion, only humility. In the Epistle reading St. Paul tells all Christians to keep the Unity (the oneness) of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We do this by living humble lives, patiently bearing with one another. When we promote our own interests, we attack the Unity of Christ’s Church. We have not, nor do we establish the unity of the Church. (Deut 6:4) The unity of faith is established by the Holy Spirit who in one baptism calls us all to confess the Gospel together.
The Gospel is not for those who think they keep God’s Law. The Gospel is not for those who are proud and think highly of themselves. -The Gospel is for those who have been humbled by the Law and terrified of their sin. It is for those who have seen their wretchedness in the mirror of the Law and realize their helplessness before God. The more we study and learn God’s Law the more we realize that we are as guilty as the lawyers and Pharisees. We have helped ourselves, self-promoted, ignored, and judged our neighbors. We have used the Law to make ourselves look good and our neighbors look bad.
But God’s Law is the great equalizer. In it, we are all guilty. We are all helpless and dying. This is how Jesus finds us, as he found the man with dropsy. Just as the man with dropsy’s body was unable to rid himself of excess fluid, so also are we unable to rid ourselves of sin. Would we ask the question is it lawful for Jesus to heal us, forgive us, and bring us back to life? Of course, it is! Jesus is the one that won the forgiveness we need when he was lifted high upon the cross. He is our Sabbath rest because he won peace with God for us on the cross and brought us back to life in his resurrection. He is the true humble servant who died in shame and lowliness so that we might be exalted above any position we could ever claim for ourselves. Jesus rose again on Sunday, and this has become our new day of Sabbath rest, the eighth day, new creation.
In Jesus we are free. Free from sin and free from death. We are free in Christ, and we have been called by the Holy Spirit to lives of humility, gentleness, and patience loving one another in the Unity of the Spirit. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.