“Watch Jesus Closely”

Luke 14:1-14


            One of Jessica’s favorite pass times is people watching. This was especially true back when we were in college and before we had the responsibility of looking after, watching over, and keeping track of our own kids. Back in college at Concordia in Chicago, I specifically remember one time where she was watching this guy and girl sitting together, eating their meal, talking, just like all the rest of us in the cafeteria were doing. Neither one of us knew these two people. After watching them a while, she tells me that she thinks that they’ll be dating within a week. I told her that she was nuts. There’s no way! Like I said, we didn’t know these people at all.

            I want to say it was the next day … Jessica and I are eating lunch together and in walks into the cafeteria that guy and girl from the other table … and they’re holding hands! I looked at her and just shook my head and wondered, “How on earth did you peg that?

            You can learn a lot about people by just watching them. How they interact with someone can tell you the type of relationship they have with that person. How someone sits in their chair can tell you if their interested in the other person or in the conversation. How they sit can tell you if they’re tired or bored.

            By watching someone, you can get a sense of what their next move might be. I say that thinking of my kids. Especially when they were younger, if they wanted to do something, something they knew they shouldn’t be doing … they would first look around the room and see if we were watching them. If we were, they would smile that cute innocent smile of theirs to warm over your heart, and then go on and do what they are not supposed to do be doing.

             Well the same holds true in our gospel reading this morning. Luke sets the stage for us perfectly. “One Sabbath, when {Jesus} went to dine at the house of the ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1). Notice what the Pharisees are doing … they’re watching Jesus. Those gathered, the lawyers, the Pharisees, the ruler of the Pharisees, they’re watching Jesus closely not because they are in awe of him or because they didn’t want to miss Jesus perform a miracle … they were watching Him to see if He would do what they thought He shouldn’t be doing. In other words, they were trying to trap Jesus. But how?

            In setting of the stage in the opening verse, Luke failed to mention someone. Luke in the opening verse focuses our attention on when everything is happening, where it is happening, and who is involved. Except he left out one detail, he left out one person. “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy” (14:2).

            Now why mention this? Because the appearance of this one man changes absolutely everything. The appearance of this man explains why it is that the lawyers, the Pharisees, and the ruler of the Pharisees are watching {Jesus} so carefully. With the sudden appearance of this man with dropsy, the Sabbath is no longer a time for rest, but rather it is now a time for action within God’s kingdom. With the appearance of this man with dropsy, the Pharisees watch to see what it is that Jesus will do next. Will he break the Sabbath to heal this man, or will He proceed with the dinner in obedient love and honor of God?

            Unfortunately, the Pharisees have set up this false either/or scenario. Either Jesus loves God and follows through with the Sabbath laws of rest or … or Jesus heals this person and breaks the Sabbath law by performing a work. Jesus know what they’re up to, so He turns to the Pharisees and asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:3). But of course they remain silent. They don’t answer because they don’t want to get caught up in their attempt to trap Jesus. What they don’t understand though is this … Jesus will love God by healing this man and so He does. Jesus heals the man and then sends him away.

            And before the lawyers and the Pharisees are able to say anything, Jesus turns to them and says, “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?” (Luke 14:5). Silence … they don’t answer because they know that they would do whatever they could to save their son or save their ox, even if it was against the Sabbath law.

            The day of the week for healing doesn’t matter to Jesus. The Sabbath, the day of rest, Jesus teaches was made for man to take delight in God, to take delight in His creation, to take delight in one another. So if someone is suffering and it happens to be a Sabbath day, then by all means Jesus says, help that person. Essentially, love your neighbor.

            Jesus does God’s work on the Sabbath. He heals the man with dropsy. But the grace which He bring is not just for the man with dropsy, no, the grace which Jesus brings is for every person at that dinner table and for each and everyone one of us. Jesus invites us into a kingdom which is shaped not by our laws and rules for honoring God, but instead Jesus invites us into a kingdom that is shaped by God’s loving response to a world where people suddenly appear among us, hurting and in need.

            When faced with human suffering, God responds by disrupting and reordering the world. He sends His Son who reaches out to the lost. Jesus lives among sinners. He eats with tax collectors and prostitutes and those with infectious diseases. Jesus eats with the higher ups, the lawyers, the Pharisees. Social status is not something which bothers Jesus. Jesus is even willing and does die with criminals. Holy, He hangs cursed on a cross. The righteous Son of God takes upon Himself the punishment which the unrighteous, which those around that Pharisee’s table and which you and I deserve. He does to forgive us, to cleanse us, but also to restore us, to heal us, and to empower us for service towards Him and each other.

            If you listen to Christian conversation, you will frequently hear a cry of distress in how our world has changed. And I agree, our world has changed, and it seemed that our time in isolation during Covid only made it worse. Christian values no longer order or direct our public lives. Truly listening to the news or a simple scroll through social media will open your eyes to how patterns in our public life have shifted. We can no longer sit back in our happy little bubbles and think that this too shall pass.

            Like the man with dropsy in Luke’s reading, people in pain are suddenly visible to Christians. Instead of reading, “behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy”, we can easily say, “behold, a woman who desires to have an abortion”, “behold, a child who is experiencing questions about sexuality,” “behold, a person who is dealing with mental anxiety,” “behold, a person who is battling addictions,” “behold, a person who is …”. These people appear before us and on a more regular basis.

            And their presence raises questions. How should a Christian behave? Luke this morning invites us to watch Jesus and to walk in the way of Jesus. We watch Jesus closely as He shows us what it means to love our neighbor.

            When we watch Jesus closely, when we take His response to the man with dropsy and implement it into our daily lives … then such mercy will change our routines and send us scrambling for words to say, for things to do which make God’s love ever so noticeable. Watching Jesus and implementing God’s love into our lives will be confusing, it will be disruptive, and it will be creative. But ultimately … it will be faithful. Faithful to the on-going work of Jesus to bring about grace and healing to all through His Spirit in the unfolding of His Kingdom.

            Watch Jesus closely … because He has so much love to offer you and to your neighbor. Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


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