Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost + August 28, 2016
Text: Luke 14:1-14
As you stand in the checkout line, what sort of people look back at you from magazine covers? Pretty people having fun. We’re drawn to youth, health, and say that these are what makes someone beautiful.
In the Gospel reading today, we see that spill over into the Church:
One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.
Picture this: Jesus is having dinner with the religious elite. The ones who are invited to this meal are those who, by all appearances, have everything going for them. They know the Scriptures inside and out, they keep the Law flawlessly, and—just to put another feather in their hat—they’ve invited this popular teacher to show how welcoming they are. They are adorned with much beauty in the eyes of man.
But in contrast to all this, there’s a man with dropsy, or as we know it today, edema. Outwardly, he’s not a pretty sight, with one or more parts of his body grossly enlarged with fluid retention. He’s grotesque, and he’s standing against this backdrop of men who, whether they’re young or old, have the appearance of wellness.
Then Jesus helps us to see wellness and sickness in a spiritual light when He asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Why would Jesus connect the Sabbath with healing? Wasn’t it just about not doing work and gathering at the Temple? From the Small Catechism, don’t we learn that the Sabbath is about “not despising preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it”? What does that have to do with healing?
You see, for God, bodily health isn’t just a matter of hereditary traits and healthy choices. Sickness and death entered the world because of sin. Every illness, disease, and deformity remind us that we are fallen creatures living in a world that is corrupt. When we witness illness in ourselves or others, our conscience is stirred up to remember what St. Paul said in Romans 5, “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Outwardly, we might be spared the visible result of our sin. We might have good health on the outside and look good to others. We might have poor health and look varying degrees of bad. No matter which it is, every one of us needs the healing Jesus gives, and that’s a healing that goes greater than skin deep.
That’s when the question is turned to each of us, what are we gathered here for?
If we’re concerned with outward appearance—of looking “healthy”—then we can show others that we’re good church-going folk. Shame on those others who slept in this morning or went to the coast. At least we can maintain our spiritual “physique” by doing what God wants.
On the other hand, if we feel the disease of sin, and feel its symptoms day to day—regardless of how we look on the outside—then we are in the right place to find healing. The Sabbath is nothing but a place for healing those wounded and sick with sin.
Our Lord goes on to describe our health in God’s sight with a parable set in a different kind of dinner:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.
This is far more than an etiquette lesson from Jesus. The lowest place is what God’s Law is supposed to do to our hearts—“You shall have no other gods”; “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God”; “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” These aren’t a matter of outward action, but a condition of our heart and the Law calls it out and puts us in our place.
But One steps into the wedding hall who is worthy. He took the sinner’s seat, “He took our illness and bore our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). He became grotesque inside and out before God and man. Stripped and humiliated, bleeding and dying, He hung on the cross and rose on the Third Day.
Now, on His account, the Master says to us, “Friend, move up higher.” Take the seat of a son, not of an enemy. This isn’t because you’ve earned it, because you have it together. It’s a gift. It’s healing of the soul, delivered through the Word and confirmed with the Sacraments.
Then, this wedding feast doesn’t look like a show of outward beauty—the way we expect to see in the world. This wedding feast is filled with the “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”: people like us who are sick with our sins, but who have been called forth by the mercy of God in Christ.
This is the wedding feast we are invited to at every Lord’s Supper. To our poor and feeble spirits, Christ our Savior and Physician says, “Take eat; this is My Body, given for you. Take eat; this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Rise and be healed of your diseases. Your sins are forgiven, and you have been freed from death. In Jesus Christ, you are beautiful and perfect in God’s sight. Amen.