“One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” (Luke 14:1)
On this occasion, Jesus was invited to the house of a ruler (or leader) of the Pharisees for a meal. The purpose of the invitation apparently was to collect evidence against Jesus, because Luke writes: “they were watching him carefully.”
“And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.” (Luke 14:2)
“And behold”? How does a man with dropsy (i.e., Edema) all of a sudden appear before Jesus at this particular banquet, on the Sabbath, when Jesus is being carefully watched? The details suggest the man was not there by coincidence, but may have been planted there by the lawyers and Pharisees. In either case, however, what men may purpose for evil, God may re-purpose for good, as we learn from Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery (Gen 50:20).
And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ ” (Luke 14:3)
Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees a rhetorical question, because He already knew what He was going to do. Moreover, no one knew what was “lawful” better than Jesus, who as the Son of God came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law for us. (Matt 5:17)
However, Jesus’ question raises another related question: Can these two things – love of God on the one hand, and love of neighbor on the other – be set in opposition to each other? Writing to the Galatians, Paul said: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Gal 5:14) Therefore, God’s law should be interpreted, not in opposition to, but in harmony with, the command to love our neighbors.
“But they remained silent.” (Luke 14:4a)
Silence, at times, speaks volumes. By remaining silent, the lawyers and Pharisees demonstrated a tremendous lack of compassion for the man with dropsy. Here, in their presence, was Jesus, whom they knew (or had heard reports) could heal the man, if they would only yield their pride. But as far as the lawyers and Pharisees were concerned, they would rather see the man continue to suffer than yield to Jesus their honor and reputations as exemplars of piety and experts in the law.
When we are silent to the suffering of our neighbors, we demonstrate that we are no better than the lawyers and the Pharisees. Some of us keep busy observing our own Sabbaths in Bible Studies, Small Group meetings and other “spiritual” programs, thinking we honor God by them, while dishonoring Him by neglecting the suffering of the neighbors in our midst. Some of us think by paying taxes or employing people at a business we are per se fulfilling the command to love our neighbors. Some of us think we can define the term “neighbor” so narrowly that it includes only blood relatives. Some of us simply do not care at all about our neighbors in need.
In his commentary on Galatians 5:14, Martin Luther cautioned:
“Let nobody think that he knows all about this commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ It sounds short and easy, but show me the man who can teach, learn, and do this commandment perfectly. None of us heed, or urge, or practice this commandment properly. Though the conscience hurts when we fail to fulfill this commandment in every respect we are not overwhelmed by our failure to bear our neighbor sincere and brotherly love.”
“Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.” (Luke 14:4b-6)
Jesus does not remain silent like other men. His Word is never silent and it cannot be silenced. Without any hesitation or concern over what the lawyers and Pharisees may think of Him, Jesus healed this man of his disease and sent him away. Then Jesus spoke His Gospel:
“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?’ And they could not reply to these things.” (Luke 14:5-6)
Jesus said: “Which of you, having a son.” Jesus did not see the man with dropsy as an anonymous stranger, but as a son who had fallen into a well. And like any father with the means to do so (and Jesus has the means), Jesus delivered the man from the well of his disease.
What unbelief prevented the lawyers, Pharisees, and all mankind from seeing is the well that entraps all of us. It is the well that our sin casts us into. This well entraps us and leads to death and eternal separation from God. We are helpless and unable to pull ourselves out of this well. We are not even aware that we are cast into this well until God’s Word of law reveals our sin and the wrath of God on account of sin.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
However, it is precisely for all people who feel their sin, wish to be free of it, and know they cannot free themselves from it, that Jesus came into the world. Jesus must pull us out of the well by the healing power of His Gospel, freeing us from sin, death and the wrath of God on account of sin. And He does not wish to leave us there; for He sees us as a father would see a son who has fallen into a well.
The Gospel that frees us from sin is God’s Word of forgiveness. Our sins are forgiven! Jesus won forgiveness for us by bearing our sins: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24) Therefore, since we cannot pull ourselves out of the well, and no one else can pull us out, Jesus alone will pull us out of the well by granting us the forgiveness of sins, if only we believe in Him.
We cannot very well love God, much less our neighbor, if we are trapped at the bottom of a well, dead in sin. But freed from the well of sin and brought to new life by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, we will begin to love God and from His love to love our neighbors. In this way our Father’s name is hallowed on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
“Whoever believes in [Jesus], as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:38) Amen.