In many and various ways, the disease—to us—is worth it—or we make it seem that way.

Today, we call dropsy edema, and we go no further. But then—dropsy was the rich man’s disease, a swelling of the body that included insatiable thirst.

The ones who suffered from dropsy, so it seemed, were the ones who could afford to fill their body to the brim. The only ones who could treat the ailment were the ones who could afford to fill it up again and again.

There was the disease—in this case, the man-made ailment that would eventually consume everything—food, drink, time, money—the body and your life—but it was worth it—it was made to seem worth it—because it was the rich man’s disease.

That’s why he’s present at the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. He was one you’d want to invite, one you’d want to show up.

They don’t think of it as being in the presence of disease. They think of it as someone important showing up to the party, their status is improved by him being there, he being a great and rich man.

The disease is worth it—if you get to be rich.

This is why Jesus speaks as He does.

In verse thirty-three of the same chapter He says, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

And in Matthew chapter nineteen, Jesus says: “Only with difficulty will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).

The disease—to us—seems worth it.

Maybe you think I’m being extreme, making the man with dropsy into an unrealistic example, but consider your station and life.

I’ll consider mine.

During Street Fair, I worked a shift.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a cheeseburger.

Who wouldn’t?

And since it was right next door, I also bought a cup of ice cream.

With the heat as oppressive as it was, who’ll cast the first stone?

But then—I think it was forty-five actual seconds later, I received a message on my phone—and what do you think that message was about?

It was exercise, a workout, of course it was.

That’s how God works, it seems, from time to time.

It was a workout that anyone could do anywhere—unless, of course, you’re holding a cup of ice cream.

The disease—that is, the sin, the long list of bad decisions in succession—isn’t worth it, but we make it seem that way until some catastrophe occurs.

Now, because of where I’ve served as a pastor and because of where I grew up—I’ve spent a number of hours talking to addicts—drugs, alcohol, pornography, whatever.

Universally, they hate and love what they do.

It’s the worst thing imaginable—wouldn’t wish it on anyone—and—it’s the only fleeting comfort available—do you wanna do it, too?

It consumes everything—time, money, body, and life—leaving an anxious, skulking, empty shadow of once vibrant, thriving life.

Again and again, the disease isn’t worth it, but we make it seem that way until some catastrophe occurs.

The proverb has it this way: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).

That’s some folly, but maybe you’re not an addict.

Or a glutton.

Or a rich man.

Maybe you’ve stopped sinning. Maybe you need no help. Maybe you learned everything a long time ago, and that’s good enough—thank you very much. Maybe everything would be better if it were done your way, because maybe you know better. Maybe you know best.

And—maybe you’re hateful and proud and well on your way down the wide road that leads to destruction. You’re never alone, because those who enter by it are many (cf. Matthew 7:13).

The disease seems worth it—especially to those who deny the disease.

Like satan and his children. They all believe the lies and want you to believe them, too.

He heard the first promise of a savior: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15), but he had it in his hardened heart that he might yet win the world to himself.

It’s as if satan says—and blasphemously—“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

As though the world was his to win.

Unbelievably to us—to satan, it’s worth it.

That’s the bargain—his bargain. And ours.

And it’s terrible.

With food, drugs, sex, laziness, hatred, and all else.

We tell ourselves:

Whatever’s good—it isn’t good.

Whatever’s necessary—it isn’t needed.

Whatever’s true, honorable, just, pure, or lovely—don’t even think about it (cf. Philippians 4:8).

“Let evil now become my good.”

That’s what we say whenever we prefer disease to cure.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

That’s what the devil says—and blasphemously—when he believes his lie, that he could win.

And—in perfect faith—that’s what Jesus says when He considers us and what it take to win the world—us included—from sin, death, and satan.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

“Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to [bruise and] death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

For Himself He chose the lowest seat. And for us.

For Himself He chose the greatest scorn. And for us.

“A world who would not purchase for a bruise?”

So—“For our transgressions, He was pierced. For our iniquities, He was crushed. Upon him was put the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds are we healed” (cf. Isaiah 53:5).

The world is purchased and won in the bruise and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, who—today—sends the man He healed away because gaining the grace of God is worth losing status in the eyes of Pharisees and principalities and powers.

Rich man or not—he no longer needs the Pharisees, for he has all things in Christ.

Jesus doesn’t forgive your sins and free you from satan so that you’d choose to return to sin and satan.

Jesus forgives you and frees you from sin and satan that you would return, again and again, to Him.

The Pharisees aren’t needed. Satan is conquered.

The disease isn’t worth it—and never was.

Now we see what means we have—the means that God provides—for sin and death and satan to be overcome, not just finally and forever but even here today.

This side of the resurrection you can’t stop sinning.

Return, again and again, to the Lord your God, and He will sustain you.

And—by the grace of God, this side of the resurrection you can, with the Holy Spirit, overcome the rich man’s disease, the glutton’s appetite, the addict’s folly, and satan’s lie.

You are not bound but freed.

You are not proud but humble and faithful.

You are not dead but made alive in Christ who chose the lowest seat for Himself and was exalted by the Father—so that all who belong to Him would live, and live forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 17, 2021
Luke 14:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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.

That’s legalism.

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
Luke 14:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt