Jesus’ healing of the man with dropsy is the second occasion in Luke’s gospel that he has confounded the Pharisees as their dinner guest. The first time around a woman who was a known sinner approached him and “wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with… ointment” (7:38). To the astonishment of the dinner party, Jesus declared her sins to be forgiven – an act accomplishable by divine fiat, alone (5:20).
The table is again set. All eyes are on Jesus, whose propensity for spontaneous miracles and (to their minds) casual blasphemy makes any given moment potentially incendiary. Jesus does not disappoint. He heals a man with dropsy. Like the sinful woman before him, this fellow was most likely uninvited and unwelcome -insignificant technicalities that do not deter him from entering into the presence of the one who can heal him. He approaches. Christ speaks, and it is done.
Those around the table remain silent, both out of unstated recognition of his authority (4:31) and because this encounter, while certainly scandalous in their eyes, presents nothing new. Jesus has healed on the Sabbath before, explaining, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (6:5). What more, then, can they say? Jesus’ words leave no middle ground. He who claims to forgive sin and to be Lord of the Sabbath is either the most High, Himself, or else he is an utter blasphemer. Though these statements of Jesus in Luke are perhaps not quite so direct as the “I am” declarations in John -“Before Abraham was, I am; (8:58), and “I and the Father are one” (10:30) –but the underlying meaning is no less clear, and thus unavoidable.
Christ’s presence at that table underscores the meaning of his parable, all the more. Given that the Lord of the Sabbath who has come to forgive sins and to reconcile the world to himself is reclining in that very room, it is utterly preposterous for those present to be concerned with sitting in “places of honor”! Refusing to believe Jesus for whom he is, the Pharisees fail to see the application of the Proverb they undoubtedly know by heart: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence, or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Proverbs 25:6-7). Jesus explains the point in the clearest of terms: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The events of the night’s dinner mirror the story exactly. The man with dropsy knew his need, and with humility he stood before Jesus. And the Lord of the Sabbath made him whole, and sent him forth. The man put himself in the King’s presence, in humility, because his urgent need together with that real presence constituted the command, “come up here.” The man was compelled to stand before the Lord. He asked, and he received.
As we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar, you and I follow in the footsteps of the man who was healed, that night, and the footsteps the sinful woman whose tears streaked the Lord’s feet even as she was forgiven. Indeed, we follow in the footsteps of the Communion of Saints across the ages. They — we — know our abject need, the depth of our disobedience, and the wages of the same. We know this on account of the Word of God, the True Light who shines in the darkness and shows that darkness, that self-seeking, self-glorifying idolatry, for what it is. But we know that the Risen Lord is present with us. He has declared it plainly, openly, just as clearly as he declared his divinity, “I and the Father are One.” This is my body. This is my blood. And with the knowledge of our need and the knowledge of his presence, we have his unequivocal command. “Take and eat, take and drink. This is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In this celebration of the foretaste of the Feast to come, it is utterly preposterous for us to concern ourselves with “places of honor.” For when your need is apparent, Luther writes, ” “you will perceive that you have sunk twice as low as any other poor sinner and are much in need of the sacrament to combat your misery” (LC 5:84). Given the wondrous reality of being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we who come to the altar know the humiliation that the One in whom all things were made suffered on our behalf. He humbled and emptied himself, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). We know that life in Him includes that same emptying of self, and the Holy Spirit’s creation of a clean heart in its place.
And so we come to the table and stand before the King, impelled by our need and thus with all humility, holding no part of our sinful lives back from the one from whom no secrets are hid. We approach. Christ speaks: my body, my blood, given and shed for you. And the treasure of his life is ours. We are his, and he sends us forth.
His Word to us, his meal with us, will not reach its appointed terminus until the inauguration of the Great Banquet in the New Jerusalem, the city that is to come. Until then, our King’s invitation is also his command: “Come up here.”
A Message from Rev Dr. Nathan Howard Yoder brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project