Jesus is invited to a Sabbath meal by a leader of the Pharisees. Others, presumably all Pharisees except for Jesus, are also invited. We can easily imagine that having just worshiped together at the synagogue they are now walking to the leader’s home for the celebrative Sabbath meal. They had all been called to worship God in the synagogue. They are now called to eat a meal together in the home of one of their leaders. Sabbath worship and Sabbath meal mirror each other – times of relaxed, joyful receptivity, receiving what God generously gives in creation and salvation, and now sharing that bounty with one another in the hospitality of a meal and good conversation.
Sabbath. A day to open our hearts and mouths and take it all in. We are needy creatures. We need food and drink, shelter and clothing. And God. None of us are sufficient to ourselves. We are plunged into this vast and intricate world of interdependencies and receive, receive, receive. Receive from generous breasts, from the Grand Tetons of nature and grace, from creation and covenant.
But it sometimes happens that as we find our way around the country of faith and acquire a few habits of discipleship, the sense of need begins to atrophy. We know our way around. We feel at home. We are no longer babes at the breast; we are grownups helping out, entrusted with a few responsibilities.
Unaware, we are in a perilous place: we are as dependent upon God as ever, but our feelings of dependence are not as sharply experienced. We are now insiders, and day by day acquiring a feeling of competence. Is it possible to retain a raw appetite for righteousness while we are experiencing so many satisfactions? Are we like children engrossed in play who have to be called in to meals and refuse to come to the table because we aren’t hungry?
The Pharisees accompanying Jesus to the Sabbath meal that day aren’t thinking about the meal. They are engrossed in being Pharisees. They aren’t hungry. The symbiotic relation of receiving life from God in worship and sharing life with one another at table has been broken.
They know about Jesus, and they know he is not one of them. His reputation has arrived ahead of him. When they leave the place of worship they forget about worship. They are preoccupied with what comes next. They are going to have to eat a meal with this man who has a reputation for eating with sinners, sinners who ignore Sabbath and never go to synagogue. Jesus probably has no idea of how to keep Sabbath properly. They are obsessively suspicious. Luke’s phrase, “watching his every move,” seethes with hostility. The conversation that Sabbath day as they walk from synagogue to dinner table is anything thing but congenial. They are not amiably discussing the Scripture readings or sermon. They are not relishing the freedom and spaciousness of this gift day of immersing themselves in God’s goodness. They are watching Jesus for any infraction of the taboos clustered around Sabbath-keeping that will invalidate his teaching.
Jesus generously gives them what they are looking for. There is a man sitting beside the road who is “hugely swollen in his joints.” The antique name for the condition is dropsy. Doctors now name it edema, the retention of water in the joints, making movement awkward and painful. Jesus asks them if it’s okay to heal him. The Pharisees sense that they are being baited. They don’t answer.
Jesus accepts their silence as permission. He heals the man and sends him on his way. He then exposes the silliness of their obsessive Sabbath policing by bringing them into the world of common sense: wouldn’t they rescue a child from drowning in a well on the Sabbath? Or even an ox? They don’t answer.
Jesus has asked them two questions. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Would you save a child from drowning on the Sabbath? The Pharisees have not answered either. Do they also have a rule against answering questions on the Sabbath?
In what ways is Sabbath a gift of hospitality by God to us? How does it move us from host/doer to guest/receiver?
How hospitable are our congregations to guests? To one another? To God?