1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath, that they watched him. 2 And behold, there was a certain man before him who had the dropsy. 3 And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” 4 And they held their peace. And he took him, healed him, and let him go, 5 And answered them, saying, “Which of you having a donkey or an ox fall into a pit would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath?” 6 And they could not answer him again to these things. 7 And he put forth a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose out the chief places, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by any man to a wedding, do not sit down in the highest place, lest a more honorable man than you is invited by him, 9 And he who invited you and him comes and says to you, ‘Give this man place,’ and you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you shall have honor in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Luke 14:1-11
It was the Sabbath Day and Jesus was invited to a meal in the home of one of the prominent Pharisees, a sect of the Jews who believed one could please God and be acceptable in His sight by a strict and legalistic keeping of God’s commandments. But Jesus, however, was being put to the test in regard to His keeping of the commandment regarding the Sabbath.
The Pharisees and experts in the Jewish law were watching Jesus because a man was there with dropsy, a condition in which fluid would build up in the extremities, causing pain and discomfort. We might call it edema today, a condition often caused by congestive heart failure.
Jesus didn’t have to ask because He most certainly already knew the answer, but He wanted His hearers — experts in the Jewish laws — to consider the truth. “And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?’” (v. 3).
They didn’t answer Jesus but, quite obviously, they considered it a violation of the commandment for Jesus to heal anyone on the Sabbath because they regarded such acts to be work forbidden by the commandment in Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the sabbath-day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall not do any work — you, your son, your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant, your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath-day and hallowed it.”
What they failed to see and understand in their efforts to outwardly obey God’s commandments so that they might be deserving of God’s favor and eternal life is that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God had commanded man to rest from his labors on the Sabbath in order that he might have time to consider God’s Word and God’s works and ways.
In Isaiah 58:13-14, we read: “If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.”
They were to sanctify and set apart the holy day, but it was never God’s intent that the Sabbath be legalistically observed as nothing more than a day in which all work was prohibited.
And, since the Sabbath served as a shadow of things to come, pointing to the fact that we are justified and obtain eternal rest by faith alone in Jesus Christ and not by our own works and merits (cf. Rom. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:1ff.), Christians are no longer required to observe a specific day.
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians in Colossians 2:16-17: “Let no man therefore judge you in food, in drink, in respect of a holy-day, of the new-moon, or of the sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.” To the Romans, he wrote in Romans 14:5-6: “One man esteems one day above another, but another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He who regards the day, regards it to the Lord, and he who does not regard the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks, and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” (Cf. Gal. 4:10-11.)
And, God said: “For I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings” (Hos. 6:6). He’s not looking for a legalistic system in which one can commit this sin and offer that sacrifice, but He’s looking for genuine repentance and faith which moves believers to love their neighbors and do what is good for them.
The Bible says in Romans 13:8-10: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not kill,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love works no ill to one’s neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
So, I ask you, what do you think God desires? To love one’s neighbor and help him on the Sabbath day? Or to refrain from loving and helping a neighbor because it is the Sabbath day?
Jesus healed this man “and answered them, saying, ‘Which of you having a donkey or an ox fall into a pit would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath?’ And they could not answer him again to these things” (v. 5-6).
And how could they answer Jesus or accuse Him? Jesus showed their hypocrisy and guilt in regard to God’s law. None of them would even hesitate to pull one of their animals out of a pit on the Sabbath Day, and yet they considered it wrong to help a human being on the Sabbath and were ready to condemn Jesus for showing love and mercy to this man on the Sabbath!
Jesus also told the Pharisees and experts in Jewish law a parable when he noted how they chose for themselves the prominent seats at the table, “saying to them, ‘When you are invited by any man to a wedding, do not sit down in the highest place, lest a more honorable man than you is invited by him, and he who invited you and him comes and says to you, “Give this man place,” and you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you shall have honor in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted’” (Luke 14:7-11).
Not only did this parable have a practical application for them to avoid being humiliated if asked to give place to a more-honored guest, and to be honored before all if asked to move up; it also has a spiritual application: “For whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (v. 11).
If we exalt ourselves before God and seek to enter into the glories of heaven on the basis of our own legalistic system of works and worthiness, we will be humbled when we are removed from our place and it is given to one counted worthy by the LORD God for the sake of the perfect life and innocent suffering and death of Christ Jesus.
If, on the other hand, we count ourselves unworthy sinners and take the lowest seat and trust in nothing but the merit of Christ Jesus, who gave His life a ransom for our sins and the sins of the world, we will be exalted when God graciously receives us into His kingdom and glorifies us for Jesus’ sake!
God calls upon us to humbly confess our sins and receive from Him forgiveness and life for the sake of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Think of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14. Who went home justified? Was it the Pharisee who boasted of his own righteousness or the tax collector who begged God to show him mercy and forgive his sin? It was the humble tax collector who went to his house justified.
The Bible tells us: “The LORD is near to those who are of a broken heart and saves those who are of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18); “For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it. You do not delight in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17); and “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’” (Isa. 57:15; cf. 66:2).
And again, St. John writes (1 John 1:8 — 2:2): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you so that you do not sin. And if any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Jesus’ point? It will merit us nothing before God to legalistically follow the letter of the commandments when we miss the spirit of the law — love for God and love for neighbor. And, most importantly, rather than depending upon our own works and merits under the law, works that are so far short of what God requires, we would be wise to humble ourselves before the LORD God, confess our utter sinfulness and unworthiness in His sight, and flee to the cross of Jesus, trusting alone in His perfect righteousness in our stead and in His innocent suffering and death on the cross for the sins of the entire world!
Remember: “For whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” — The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 370
[Scripture quotations are from the Revised Common Version of the Bible.]