Table of grace – Friday, 30th week in ordinary time – Luke 14:1-6
This text of Luke 14:1-6 is unique to Luke and is the final Lucan controversy to take place regarding the sabbath. Once again Jesus shows himself as the lord of the sabbath (Luke 6: 5) who champions works of compassion on the sabbath.
A prominent Pharisee asked Jesus to eat at his home. A number of things took place at this table, but none of them were very pleasant. It ended up being a sour mealtime conversation and all-in-all, it was a most unpleasant occasion.
Meals often feature in Jesus’ parables and in the key moments of his public life. Jesus is at a meal in Cana, with Martha and Mary, at the meeting with Magdalene and at the last supper to name a few. Essentially, this was one long meal; a dinner party of the elite which Luke recorded in chapter 14:1 and goes all the way to verse 24. It is a meal at which the Pharisees live out their dinner protocol, values, and pecking order as we see this in the next pericope.
Once again, it appears that the Pharisees had a motive in inviting Jesus. They put Jesus at the centre so they could scrutinise him. Jesus does not seem to be invited for the hospitality of it, but for the hostility of it. We are told that they were watching him but as verse seven will tell us, he was watching them!
In verse two we are told that “there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy”. This was such an elite gathering, so how could a man suffering from dropsy simply find his way in such a gathering in front of Jesus? He certainly does not fit into the guest list. He was almost certainly brought in front of Jesus by the Pharisees as an opportunity to trap Jesus yet Jesus saw a hurting man in need of help. It is our misery that calls forth God’s mercy.
Many times, we see hurting people as an interruption or a burden, but Jesus sees them with a heart of compassion. Jesus saw the man and he wants us to see him and every suffering man or woman.The man, we are told, was suffering from dropsy, also called Edema. This is a painful condition by which the tissues fill with water and is caused because of kidney trouble, a heart ailment, or liver disease.
So, Jesus asks them, these learned Pharisees a question. In fact, he asks them two questions. The first was a matter of principle; the second was a matter of practice. In return Jesus is met with silence, a silence of sullen wilfulness.
With regard to the question on the matter of principle; if they responded, “It is lawful to heal on the Sabbath,” then they wouldn’t have a problem with this man being healed. If they responded, “It is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath,” then before the man with dropsy and others they would be revealed as the hard-hearted, calloused snakes that they really were. So they are silent. There was no willingness to discuss the matter, neither is there any intention of acknowledging their hypocrisy. Silence is the passive form of rebellion, but it is rebellion none the less.
Jesus now asks them the second question; this one is a matter of practice. If their son or animal fell in a ditch on the sabbath would they pull it out? The answer was obvious for they would do exactly what they were not willing to admit to. Besides, the Law of Moses did not forbid healing on the Sabbath and also made provisions for an animal in need. How could they not see the greater value of a man in need? The problem was that the Pharisees had allowed regulations and propriety to take over; They had become institutionalized. Jesus showed them that they had lost sight of the dignity of the people they claimed to lead.
Even in Jesus time, it seems that there were those who cared more for animals than they did for their brothers and sisters! How in the world could they think that God would make allowance for the kind treatment of a domestic animal that had come into distress on the Sabbath Day and that he wouldn’t care about a human being created in the image of God?
That day there were two unanswered question of Jesus …..and the meal has just begun. This meal was most certainly not going to be a time of friendly conversation and warm hospitality. It was a time of silent treachery, and of self-seeking on the part of those Pharisees who were present. It was a time of rebuke and sober warning from the lips of our Lord. It was not going to be a pleasant meal.
For Jesus, the table is not only the place we say grace but the place we define grace by the way we see and include others. Jesus saw the man and he wants us to see that man.