I have a neighbor whose yard was suddenly filled with bird feeders. She put them on poles and hung them from trees. There must have been 15 feeders in her front yard.
One day, as I was walking, I stopped to comment on the feeders. That is when she told me about her mom and hospice. She had recently taken her mother into her home to offer care before dying. “My mother loves birds,” she said. “So, when I took mom in, I put her hospital bed in the living room. It faces the window. Now, I’ve put all of these bird feeders out so she can watch the birds.”
My neighbor’s love for her mother changed things: Her home, her daily routine, her living room, her yard. When you walk by her house, you can literally see how this home is a place of loving care.
Our gospel reading this morning challenges us to think about what it would mean for our world to be a place of loving Christian care. In the text, Jesus enters a Pharisee’s house for dinner. Between the invitation and the meal, however, Jesus transforms this man’s home into a place of God’s care.
As the narrative opens, the time and place and people are all set. They are arranged for pleasing God. Luke tells us the time. It is the Sabbath. Those who have gathered will honor this day as set apart for God. Luke then tells us about the place. This is not just any Pharisee’s home. This is the ruler of the Pharisees. His house will be an example of how to please the Lord on the Sabbath. And Luke tells us of the people. The ruler of the Pharisees has invited teachers of the Law. Those who were gathered would know how to please God. On this day, in this place, among these people, God will most certainly be glorified.
The only problem is that at the heart of God’s glory is not a group of Pharisees observing their rules for the Sabbath but Jesus caring for a man with dropsy. Oh, I did not tell you about the man with dropsy? Well, neither did Luke. The man with dropsy was there, of course, but Luke did not call attention to him. All attention was directed to the Pharisees and the dinner and the observation of the Sabbath. Suddenly, however, a man with dropsy appears.
“Behold,” Luke says, a man with dropsy appears. “Behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” The appearance of this one suffering person is a challenge to patterns of behavior. Suddenly, the Sabbath is no longer a time for rules of rest but rather a time for action in the Kingdom of God.
Suddenly, the Sabbath is no longer a time for rules of rest but rather a time for action in the Kingdom of God.
The Pharisees watch Jesus closely to see how He will proceed. Will He break the Sabbath to heal this man, or will He proceed with the dinner in obedient love and honor of God?
Unfortunately, the Pharisees have set up a false either/or. Either Jesus loves God, or He heals this person. What they do not know is Jesus will love God by healing this person.
Jesus does God’s work on the Sabbath. He heals. But the grace He brings is not just for the man with dropsy. It is for everyone at the dinner and for us sitting in church today. Jesus invites us into a kingdom that is shaped not by our laws and rules for honoring God but by God’s loving response to a world where people suddenly appear among us, hurting and in need.
This mission of Jesus breaks expectations. It disrupts our comfortable world.
“I hate, I despise your feasts,” Yahweh said through His prophet Amos. “I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them... but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
When faced with human suffering, God responds by disrupting and reordering the world. He sends His Son who reaches out to the lost. He lives among sinners. He dies among criminals. Holy, He hangs cursed on a cross. The righteous Son of God takes upon Himself the punishment for all unrighteousness that He might reach out to restore, to heal, and to empower for service. Now, in our own day, Jesus continues working. He opens our world to His ministry of healing and restoration.
If you listen to Christian conversation, you will frequently hear a lament for how our world has changed. I agree with that lament, our world has changed. Judeo-Christian values no longer order our public lives. A simple scroll through social media will open your eyes to how patterns in our public life have shifted. After the recent Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, I saw a protestor standing on the sidewalk of Forest Park with a sign declaring: “This is NOT a Christian nation.” The hatred was visible in her face.
Like the man with dropsy in Luke’s reading, people in pain are suddenly visible to Christians. “Behold... a woman who desires to have an abortion.” “Behold... a child who is experiencing questions about sexuality.” These people appear before us.
Their presence raises questions. How should a Christian behave? Luke invites us to walk in the way of Jesus. Not opposing our love of God to our actions toward others in the world but letting our love for God be known in our love for others.
Like Jesus’ response to the man with dropsy, such mercy will change our routines, and send us scrambling to find words to say, actions to do, that manifest God’s love. It will be confusing, disruptive, and creative. But ultimately it will be faithful: Faithful to the on-going work of Jesus to bring grace and healing to all through His Spirit in the unfolding of His Kingdom.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Luke Luke 14:1–14.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 14:1–14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 14:1–14.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 14:1–14.