Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
The Reverend David A. Brounstein
St. Matthew’s Church
12 October 2014
In this morning’s Gospel, St. Luke gives us a behind the scenes view of a Sabbath day meal at the home of one of the chief Pharisees. This was not an impromptu or casual invitation to a simple luncheon repast, but a well planned and meticulously orchestrated event. In attendance were many of the high powered movers and shakers of first century Israel. Through the Gospel narrative, St. Luke invites us, as it were, to become invisible guests, observing all that is transpiring as the meal gets underway. The intent of the chief Pharisees and those on the well connected “A” list was not to celebrate the Sabbath, but to critically examine and informally judge an itinerant preacher from Nazareth who was gathering a following and dared to infringe upon their teaching turf.
Jesus was fully cognizant of their desire to entrap him through the words he spoke and the deeds he performed, but nonetheless, accepted the invitation and challenge. The King James translation tells us that Jesus was being “watched,” but the Greek construct of that word is much more ominous, indicating that they were ‘lurking’ as they watched him.
As if on cue, a man then appears with what is called ‘the dropsy’ – a somewhat archaic word for a physical condition in which the body is swollen with excess fluids. It is an extreme case of what we would now call edema.
Rather than the Jewish leaders providing a teaching or giving a meditation on the Torah as was their customary responsibility in an intimate home setting on the Sabbath day, it was Jesus who gave the lesson. Jesus cites the Mosaic Law (Dt. 22:4) requiring aid be given to fallen livestock in distress. First century rabbinic commentaries on the Law placed this obligation above other Sabbath day requirements. While some of the more separatist communities, such as the Essenes who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls, denied this preference to animals on the Sabbath, there was no disagreement among the Pharisees that aid should always be extended to a person, even on the Sabbath. In the midst of his teaching, Jesus applies theory to practice. He embraces the man and heals him as all are watching them in complete silence.
Note that there were no voices rejoicing for the man who had been miraculously healed. There were no voices praising God for His compassion. There were no voices acknowledging Jesus for obediently doing the work and will of His Father. There was only the indifference of silence, as the healing evoked no change whatsoever in the hearts of the Jewish leadership in attendance that day.
Jesus, in observing the elite of Israel gathered around him in the home of the chief Pharisee, next tells a parable of certain guests vying for the best seats at a banquet. Absent in his listeners is any awareness that they had failed to identify and acknowledge the true guest of honor present in their midst, the Messiah of Israel. This parable is a most poignant commentary on this Sabbath day meal.
I would encourage you to re-read our Gospel lesson this week. You will surprisingly find that throughout this Sabbath day controversy, Jesus is the only one who speaks and the only one who acts. In doing so, he responds to the unvoiced criticism and silent judgment of the Jewish establishment as well as their self-centered preening and their preoccupation with self- aggrandizing social standing.
St. Luke, through his Gospel narrative, has given us a snapshot of two kingdoms existing side-by-side in real time for all to see. First is the kingdom of God on earth. It is vibrant and alive. Through Jesus Christ, humanity continues to experience the love and compassion of God that not only heals the sick but saves us from our sins. Inhabitants of this Kingdom are commanded to integrate the two great commandments in their everyday life – “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy might and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Kingdom comes with the promise of eternal life to those who forsake all others and follow Jesus Christ. This is the ‘Good News’ or ‘Gospel’ consistently proclaimed by the Church for some two thousand years.
At the same time, there is a second kingdom as portrayed in our Gospel narrative this morning. It is sterile and devoid of concern for the human need. At this Sabbath day meal, Jesus challenged the understanding of the kingdom of God as envisioned by the Pharisees. They had compartmentalized their lives and worship of God to the ideal of following the written and oral Mosaic Law and the related rabbinic commentaries. There was no practical application of their piety or concern for their neighbor. In doing so, the inhabitants of this second kingdom develop stubborn and rebellious hearts, hearts that come to cherish their coldness. They are critical and cynical while constantly criticizing others, in an effort to assure themselves of their superiority. This self imposed condition makes them blind, deaf and mute to the works of God.
As inheritors of the Kingdom of God, may we follow the example and great teaching of our Savior, daily integrating the love of God and our neighbor in all that we do.
May the grace of God indeed go before us and continually make us to be given to all good works so that we would be aware of the needs of others and respond with kindness, compassion, and practical help, as God gives us the ability.