In Luke chapter 14:1-6 Jesus is enjoying a meal with some Pharisees on the Sabbath, and scripture says that they were watching him closely. Coincidentally a man with dropsy approaches, so Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not.” The Pharisees have no answer. After a holy sigh, Jesus heals the man and sends him on his way. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day? The Pharisees remained silent, which means they weren’t watching Jesus closely enough.
There are a few things that come to mind in these short verses. The first is this unnamed man with dropsy. How did he get there? This man is unclean, so he certainly wasn’t invited to hang out with the religious elite on the Sabbath. It’s also doubtful that he wandered into a Pharisees home, for the same reason. Knowing that the Pharisees are watching him closely, it seems that the Pharisees have planted this man specifically to test Jesus. Imagine the movement of Jesus’ heart when he sees this man being used as a pawn in the Pharisees game of entrapment. There are times in the Gospels when Jesus is filled with a holy anger, and it is when people are being abused. Jesus heals this man and sends him on his way. Jesus does not dismiss him; rather Jesus sets him free from both his illness and his oppression. This is what Jesus said he was sent to do in the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he proclaimed in the Synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sigh to the bling, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Not only is this man unclean, but also he is suffering from dropsy. Dropsy is an old word for edema (eee deee mah), which means that his body is retaining water, yet it leaves him with an unquenchable thirst. These people were particularly frowned upon because they looked fat, yet they could not be satisfied. They appeared to be self-centered gluttons incapable of self-control. Do you see the picture that Luke is crafting? Here is a man suffering from an unquenchable thirst and he comes to Jesus, Jesus who said in the Gospel of John, “Those who come to me will never be thirsty, for I give them living water.” This man is not the only one in the room with an unquenchable thirst. The room is full of them, though it is power for which the Pharisees long. Later in this story Jesus sees that the Pharisees are sitting in places of honor, so Jesus tells them, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Make no mistake. The man with dropsy is not the only one Jesus is trying to cure from an insatiable appetite.
The second thing to glean from this text is Jesus’ question to the Pharisees. When this man approaches Jesus he asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath?” This question really has several parts, but I’d like to lift up one this morning. “Is it right to do work on the Sabbath” begs the question, “What is work?” I like to look at “work” in three different ways. First, there is your job, that which you do to provide: for yourself, your family, your gifts to the church. Sometimes your job is why work is a four-letter word. A job gives rise to the “Hump Day Geico commercial.” TGIF. We look forward to the weekend because we aren’t on the clock. Especially this weekend with Labor Day, except not everyone has the day off.
Not only do many have a job, but we also have an occupation, literally meaning, “that which occupies your time.” This is not always our job. Maybe what occupies most of your time is actually “worry”—worrying about finances or family or friendships. Maybe your occupation is pride-feeling a constant need to impress everyone. Maybe your occupation is despair? Maybe it’s hope or love or facebook? A job is what you do to provide. Your occupation is what occupies most of your time.
Then there is your vocation—that to which you are called. Jesus asks if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. In a way, the answer is no because you are to do no work on the Sabbath. It is to be a day when your job is put aside to remind you that it is God who truly provides. Likewise, the answer is no because the Sabbath is to be set aside so that spending time with God occupies your time. Conversely the answer is also yes because healing is what Jesus is sent to accomplish. It is part of his calling, his vocation—our vocation. Rules are important. That’s another sermon all together. Rules are important, but when rules get in the way of doing what God is calling God’s people to accomplish; rather when there is tension between Jesus and The Rules . . . Jesus wins. A job is what you do to provide. Your occupation is what occupies your time. Your vocation is who you are being called to become. So, tomorrow if you have the day off, so to speak, I invite you to meditate on who God is calling you to be.
Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? This is not a “yes” or “no” question; rather is a call to action. Jesus healed the man and set him free. May Christ do the same for us so that we are free to answer God’s calling for the transformation of the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.