daily biblical sermons

Jesus accepts an invitation to eat with prominent people who are not his disciples, and he uses the occasion to teach them many things
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 30th Week of the Year, November 03, 2023
Romans 9:1-5, Psalm 147, Luke 14:1-6

Biblical citations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“One Sabbath when he [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler who belong to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having an ass or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this” (Luke 14:1-6).



Jesus is always the teacher and guide, using every opportunity to advance the gospel. He is invited to dine with a prominent Pharisee who is a ruler of the people, and instead of simply trying to ingratiate himself with his prominent host, he uses this occasion to teach him and his fellow guests many important things.



How unlike him are we! Often, we use such an invitation for nothing better than light worldly conversation, simply to pass the time in a pleasant and agreeable way with these important people. We do not want to make an example of our self or stick out in a strident way by preaching to our prominent host and his other distinguished guests at the dinner table. Too often we are simply pleased if we can get through the meal without offending anyone and making a pleasant impression on all our fellow guests.



Jesus is very different. Every opportunity that he gets he uses to teach and proclaim some aspect of the gospel. Today he uses this occasion to give them a lesson about the Sabbath. The Jews had an elaborate and somewhat unbalanced understanding of the Sabbath that often made this joyful day burdensome to observe.



So to test Jesus this prominent Pharisee it seems arranged for a man with dropsy to suddenly appear before him at the banquet to see whether he would heal him or not on the Sabbath, as he did so many other times. If he heals him, the Pharisee would have grounds for criticizing Jesus for his behavior on the Sabbath, doing something that could have been done on any of the other days of the week.



So Jesus simply asks whether “it [is] lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:3). The guests at the table including the Pharisee who invited him remain silent. They do not answer his question. So Jesus without further ado takes the man and heals him and lets him go.



Then Jesus launches into his teaching about the Sabbath. He says, “‘Which of you, having an ass or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull it out on the Sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this” (Luke 14:5-6).



An ox or an ass is a valuable possession worth a great deal of money, and if it accidentally falls into a well it will drown and its owner will lose a lot of money. So he immediately gets ropes and people to help him and they pull it out whether it is on a Sabbath day or not. And all the guests know that each one of them would do the same thing.



So that answers the question whether it is lawful to heal a person with dropsy on the Sabbath. If it is lawful to save an animal, how much more lawful would be to save a human being. So what he did in healing this man with dropsy on the Sabbath was perfectly acceptable behavior.



This means that the Jews’ rules for keeping the Sabbath that would prohibit rescuing an animal from a well or healing a person from a disease on the Sabbath are an exaggeration of the real meaning of the Sabbath rest.



On the Sabbath we should rest from unnecessary servile work and manual labor and let it be a day of worship, study, reading, and relaxation, not a day of hard physical work or manual labor, which could be done on any other day. But if someone’s life is in danger or even if an animal’s life is in danger and it is the Sabbath and we can do something to save the life of that person or animal, we should do it. The Sabbath was meant to be a joy and rest of good eating and rejoicing, not a burden as the Jewish legalistic attitude had often made it.



So here is Jesus, always the teacher and guide, not suddenly changing his personality and modus operandi as he changes his place or the people he is with. He is always the same, always the teacher and guide, and his conversation is not light worldly banter, but a discussion of meaningful issues.



How different was Jesus from the way we often or usually are! In our fear of standing out and wanting to blend in and have a smooth relationship with the other people at the dining table, not calling attention to ourselves, to our knowledge and understanding, we often avoid preaching to others or speaking about meaningful things. So we have a way to go to be like Jesus. Every situation should be used and taken advantage of to discuss significant things and further our understanding of the kingdom and salvation.



So we should try to act in an appropriate way in whatever situation we find ourselves. Sometimes we are invited to a banquet in which behaving as Jesus did would not be possible, because there may be many diplomats and important people at the banquet and we would have to remain quiet, humble, and unobtrusive. If such is the case, we should refuse such an invitation as a waste of time.



So if we can see ahead of time that a certain situation or invitation would be merely a waste of our time and that we could not behave in an exemplary way and say things that are meaningful, then we should simply stay away from such an occasion and rather spend our time in a more worthwhile way, by reading or studying or keeping up with world events as well as with events in the life of the Church. We should only accept invitations that would be a profitable spending of our time, not a waste of our time.



Do we always behave in this exemplary way as Jesus does? Probably most if not all of us would have to answer that we don’t always or even usually behave in such an exemplary way, and so we still have things to learn and grow in. We are not yet similar enough to Jesus. We still have a long way to go to be more like him. And certainly we should not behave in such a way that people will rightly criticize us. So here too we have room for further growth.



And how do we spend the Sabbath, which for us Christians is Sunday? Do we use it as a time of reading and study, rest and relaxation, catching up on world and Church news to better understand the issues involved in the world and the Church today?



We know that the Pharisees were very strict about keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest, and we criticize them as Jesus does for going to an extreme. But perhaps we go to the opposite extreme of not taking the Sabbath seriously enough. How, therefore, can we keep the Sabbath in a more profitable and worthwhile way?

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