One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:1-11).
A Sunday School teacher with little use for the miraculous was explaining to his class that the Israelites must have passed through the Sea of Reeds instead of the Red Sea. As this teacher told the story, stressing that the exodus surely had a natural explanation, one of the boys kept saying, “That’s amazing.” Finally, the frustrated teacher made a big point about how the Sea of Reeds is only a few inches deep. Nonetheless, the boy replied again, “That’s amazing.”
“What’s amazing?” the teacher asked, indignant. “Any of us could walk through such shallow water. It’s no miracle.” The boy answered, “All the Egyptian army drowned in only a few inches of water!”
The Pharisees and experts in the law had lost sight of God’s clear Word like the Sunday School teacher. They wanted to stand above the Word instead of under it. They had softened parts and added to others. They’d molded the texts into their own image and understanding.
And then there just so happened to be a man with dropsy in their midst, at a meal to which Jesus had been invited. Was it a coincidence? He could have been planted there to test Jesus. We don’t know. Either way, his presence presented a dilemma. It was the Sabbath, the day of rest. To heal or not to heal, that was the question.
So what did Jesus do? He put the question to them, especially to the lawyers, the teachers of the law. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” And notice what they did. “They remained silent.” This was a particularly difficult case.
You see, many thought dropsy was a physical manifestation of a spiritual ill, that it betrayed some hidden sin. In other words, many believed that bad people got dropsy. And so the question wasn’t only whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, but whether it was lawful to heal a sinner, a public sinner, on the Sabbath.
Hopefully, you know the answer. What’s the Sabbath about, if not healing for sinners? What’s the Sabbath about, if not about God’s mercy? Isn’t that why we’re all here? But it wasn’t that obvious to those gathered. “They remained silent.” And so Jesus answered His question for them. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And 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?”
Every day is a Sabbath for Christians. Every day is the day the Lord has made. Every day is a day to find rest in Christ. Every day is a day to learn his Word. And every day is a day to put that Word into practice, especially for those in need.
It should have been a cut-and-dry matter. It was good and right for Jesus to heal the man, and those gathered should have expected nothing less. Even more, they should have been seeking healing from him, too; they should have been seeking his mercy.
It may sound simple, but the church has a long history of making it more difficult than you’d think in both the Old Testament era and in the New. And so Jesus reminds us again every day is a day for mercy. Mercy for sinners. Mercy for me. Mercy for you. Mercy for all with flesh and blood, no matter it’s condition. Amen.