I’d like to look specifically at the first half of today’s Gospel lesson—where Jesus heals the man with dropsy, which is, today, called edema.
At the heart of today’s Gospel lesson is the proper understanding of the Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Or you might remember the older translation: Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day.
So what’s the holy-day? Or the Sabbath?
How do we sanctify it? And how different is that from remembering it and keeping it holy?
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). Or—perhaps we should ask it this way—“At what point does working on Sunday become despising the Sabbath?”
Legalism does not provide the answer.
There isn’t a list. There isn’t a step-count threshold not to be stepped past, or some golden circle that lets you know when you’re in or out.
That would be legalism.
That would be modern-day Judaism.
This came up in Sunday School not long ago, but the modern, Jewish understanding of the Sabbath is this: you are to do no work. You may not socialize. You may not carry your children in public.
It’s considered work to turn the oven on, so meals are served cold. It’s considered work to turn the lights on, so you sit in the dark or by a window. You can’t carry anything—books from the library, groceries from the store, your own children from the park. That’s work.
So—let’s sum up—on the Sabbath—sit there, in the dark, do nothing, eat cold or room temperature food, talk to nobody, and—enjoy it. That’s the Sabbath.
Nobody’s gonna do that, which is failure enough, but here’s where legalism truly fails. Since no one wants to do any of that, exceptions are made.
You can set everything up with an electric timer.
It’s not considered work to open the oven and close it, only to turn it on.
That’s a bit of a hassle, though, because not everyone knows how to set an electric timer.
So, you could have a non-Jew turn your oven on for you, carry your kids, whatever you need.
He would be called a “Shabbat goy,” a non-Jew Sabbath worker, but that has its own hassle, because it breaks the Sabbath to pay someone on the Sabbath to do work on the Sabbath.
It would all have to be pre-arranged, pre-paid.
So to get around the hassle of their understanding of God, in Manhattan—and in other cities—certain Jews have installed what’s called an eruv.
An eruv is an unbroken wire, suspended off the ground like a power line. In Manhattan, it’s eighteen miles long, it’s checked every Thursday, and costs $100,000 a year to maintain.
But if you live within this magical circuit, you get to treat the inside of it as a private space, like your own home—where you can use a cane or a walker, carry your house keys, tissues, medication.
Otherwise, doing any of that breaks the Sabbath.
Excuses for self. Judgment for everyone else.
So…“‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’ [The lawyers and Pharisees] remained silent” (cf. Luke 14:3-4).
The Pharisees were watching Jesus because it was the Sabbath, and no work was to be done on the Sabbath.
St. Luke writes, in chapters four, six, and thirteen, all prior to today’s Gospel lesson, that Jesus heals on the Sabbath, so the Pharisees know to watch Him carefully.
They want to say you can’t do work on the Sabbath.
But they also want to eat hot food.
They don’t want to agree with Jesus about anything.
But they would want to be healed.
“Then [Jesus] took [the man with dropsy] and healed him and sent him away. 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 14:4-6).
The Pharisees and lawyers couldn’t respond to these things, because Jesus summarizes the Law. From Deuteronomy chapter twenty-two, thus says the Lord: “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again” (Deuteronomy 22:4).
But even before that, thus says the Lord: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
They could not reply to these things, because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (cf. Mark 12:24).
Sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember it and keep it holy.
Pharisees and lawyers know the commandments. That is, they know how to find them, what page they’re on, maybe even how they’re numbered, but they can’t answer, in any way, What does this mean?
Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).
The Sabbath isn’t about doing work or not doing work. Jesus does work on the Sabbath and quotes the Scriptures and the power of God that teaches us to help our neighbor and to love him as ourself.
Rather, the Sabbath is about who we are, who God is, what we need, and what God provides.
We don’t define the Third Commandment in terms of “Thou shalt always go to church and never enjoy Sundays at all ever or thou shalt burn in hell.”
But we do define the Third Commandment in terms of fearing and loving God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
To despise preaching is not simply to disagree with what is preached. Disagreement alone doesn’t mean you despise preaching.
To despise preaching is a matter of the heart, to harden your heart against what God says.
If you ignore the advice of your oncologist or the police officer in riot gear, you do so at your own risk.
It doesn’t matter what I say.
It doesn’t matter what you say.
It matters what “Thus says the Lord…”
Have you hardened your heart against the Word of God? Do you know it well enough to have hardened your heart against it? Do you ask what God says and do you demand to know?
Asking it that way, the Sabbath isn’t about working or not working, it’s about the heart—what you need and what God gives and whether or not you know it.
To despise God’s Word is to fain tearing from off His throne, Christ Jesus God’s beloved Son (cf. LSB 655:1).
God has given us our reason and our senses, true. But they are to be put in place and kept in check. The Word of God is the only rule and norm of faith and practice.
To hold the Word of God and its proclamation as sacred is to recognize it as the set apart thing it is.
No other book contains the Word of God.
No other God desires to save apart from works done by us in righteousness.
There is no other righteousness but Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, who died to sin and lives to God, our righteousness.
These are matters of the heart. Matters of faith.
If you have to work on Sunday, work on Sunday, but don’t presume to tell us that you don’t need what God provides or that always working on Sunday doesn’t also invite the temptation to believe that your life is in your hands. Don’t presume to tell us that what you need is not what God gives—here and now, every week.
God desires to forgive the world.
In Christ, He has forgiven it.
He will, one day, require of you your soul, and you don’t know what day that’ll be.
So hear the Word of God and its proclamation.
Hold it sacred.
Hear and have the forgiveness of sins—preached, poured out, and given and shed for you.
Gladly hear and learn it.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.
And love your neighbor as yourself.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 17, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt