A fellow with dropsy has been dragged to a fancy event against his will to be part of a magician’s act. We don’t know if he knew of Jesus’ reputation as a healer. Jesus doesn’t look down on him as the Pharisees do. Quite the opposite because he compares him to the son of a Pharisee. The man’s misfortune is also similar to a fallen ox, an expensive creature. Pharisees would love their sons and would go to extra lengths to save highly valuable oxen. Instead, they abuse a man in a dire condition.
Image from the 1817 US National Library of Medicine
By John Pearring
The meal that Jesus talks about in Saturday’s reading comes from a chapter in Luke dedicated to meal theology. Verses 7-11 sit in the middle of three stories Luke portrays about a wealthy Pharisee who hosts Jesus for his friends. The interplay between the guests and Jesus belongs to a carefully crafted presentation. The three parts of this chapter point to the Mass as the portal to the upcoming wedding banquet in heaven.
The chapter opens with “people observing him carefully.” Jesus is the attraction. His performance is the purpose of the meal. Before Jesus dines at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath, before anyone eats, Jesus is presented with a man suffering from dropsy. The Pharisees watch Jesus to see if the Son of Man will provide a magic show for their evening pleasure.
“In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy.” Scholars note the odd presence of a man with such a disgusting disease amid fastidious elites about to eat a meal. The poor fellow is a plant. The Pharisees have dropped him as a challenge to Jesus, not caring about the consequences and embarrassment of the man’s horrible disease, but to see what Jesus would do.
We know their callous intent because Jesus asked them if it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath, catching their game. The Pharisees stood silent. Their silence reflects the obvious conspiratorial attitude of entrapment. They have planned this, but no one will say anything and give away the ruse.
Dropsy is a disease that takes a great amount of time to heal. Accumulated fluids leak from the body. The brain is addled, too. Confused in head and body and unable to control his limbs from flailing about, the man’s presence is an awful spectacle.
Jesus “takes the man,” likely touching him in his diseased state, a further affront about elevating rescue above the law. He heals him. We are not told how, but it is abrupt. Once well, Jesus rescues him from further ridicule by letting him leave the place immediately.
The miracle is remarkable. The spectacle, in mere moments, transforms a gooey, uncontrolled mess into a rescued, healed man taking his leave.
Jesus then turns the host and guests’ silence against them. “Wouldn’t you do the same on the Sabbath? What if your son or ox falls into a cistern? Wouldn’t you pull him out?”
This fellow with dropsy has been dragged to a fancy event against his will to be part of a magician’s act. We don’t know if he knew of Jesus’ reputation as a healer. Jesus doesn’t look down on him as they do. Quite the opposite because he compares him to the son of a Pharisee. To further their embarrassment, the man’s misfortune is also similar to a fallen ox, an expensive creature. They would love their sons and would go to extra lengths to save highly valuable oxen. Instead, they abuse a man in a dire condition.
Hidden in Jesus’ Sabbath rescue is the man’s fate with dropsy compared to being stuck in a cistern. Why a cistern? This home is the cistern, a container of water used to flush waste down a toilet. Jesus is very descriptive. The Pharisees insult the man with dropsy, using him for a show. Jesus insults them in return, calling their home a cistern. Jesus “pulls him out,” saving the dropsy victim from the cistern of the Pharisees.
The next set of verses, 7-14, continues with a further correction for the conniving Pharisees. Jesus noticed a bit of seat positioning going on, folks jockeying to get better attention. He warned them that humility might save them some embarrassment. “A more distinguished guest than you may be invited,” he cautions. They’d lose that seat and, in front of the entire gathering, be humiliated with a “lower” place.
The imagery, again, is important. Jesus calls out pride as imprudent because they are all guests here. The man with dropsy was no guest but has been treated with respect by Jesus. The one who humbles himself will be exalted. We shouldn’t expect recognition on our account. The master of the house, the host, has that privilege. Wait for him to call you.
The master, however, is also corrected. Then [Jesus] said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.”
“Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The Pharisees and their sycophants in attendance turn into pawns on Jesus’ chessboard for scripture readers of the future.
A man blurted out, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.” Maybe he’s lifted his cup in a toast. A nervous fellow, perhaps, to deflect the underlying anger of some in the crowd when Jesus insulted the host. He broke the awkward silence. We don’t really know. But, folks had to be uncomfortable after Jesus healed a man on a challenge, compared the house of wealth to a cistern, made a wisecrack about seating arrangements, and then called the host pompous because he didn’t know what was truly righteous.
In any case, Jesus didn’t let up. He came willingly to the Pharisee’s dinner, knowing he would be confronted. He now tells a parable that describes excuses folks give to a man inviting his friends to dinner. One guy is purchasing land, another is inspecting cattle, and the last needs to tend to a new wife. Those seem like some pretty good excuses.
The master then ordered the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
A gathering of Jews, the Chosen Ones, are invited to the kingdom but will be rejected. They will be rejected because they have rejected Jesus. He tells them that others will have to be invited instead. The lesser will fill the Kingdom.
The Kingdom needs to be full. The poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame have shown up. And there is still plenty of room. God will go to the highways and the hedgerows and bring in Gentiles. These are folks that no one thinks about getting into the Kingdom. Attending this meal with the Pharisees is Jesus’s warm-up, his teaser for the fate of the unrepentant, belligerent ones among the Chosen.
We need to be careful about where we think we sit with God. Are we waiting for the invitation to come up to the table from God, or are we focused on some earthen celebrity’s invitation? After Jesus calls us, do we go only to jockey for a better spot with God rather than accept the place he has in mind for us?
We know now what Jesus has in mind for us — to partake of his body and his blood — our daily portal, if we want it, to the heavenly feast. I suggest this is a dinner we don’t want to get distracted from attending. This is a gathering I have often been late for, selfishly making excuses to do something else and then missing out on tasting the dinner that mattered above everything else in this life.