Monday, 28 September 2015
Sermon September 27, 2015: 17th Sunday after Trinity
Some years ago I learned an approach to understanding the Gospel. There are actually three rules to this approach. The first of the rules is, ‘the Gospel is always astonishing’. The second rule is ‘The Gospel is not fair’. Finally, ‘in the Gospel, God always acts first’.
Now I must admit that I don’t always use these rules. However, I have found that when I do they can be helpful in trying to figure out what the Gospel is saying to me in the current moment. I thought of this approach when I read today’s Gospel. Specifically, I was surprized/astonished when I read that Jesus went to the house of the chief Pharisee. Now, if I had been asked I would have said that this is the last place that I would expect Jesus to be. It is like Daniel going into the lions’ den voluntarily. Jesus was never reluctant to criticise the Pharisees and hold them to account for their approach to religion and their seemingly making a god of the law e.g. the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath.
Here we have the Gospel with Jesus breaking bread at the chief Pharisee’s house. We might have thought that perhaps the fence—or should I say chasm—that separated the Pharisees from Jesus might have been mended and bridged.
But we are disabused from that possibility almost immediately. We are told, “that they watched him.” In effect they had invited Jesus to dinner to do what they always seemed to do; try and catch him in some faux pas of religious law so that they could condemn him and his message. That, of course, in itself is a breaking of the rules of hospitality. That is not what a host should do. The host should welcome a guest and put him or her in the place of honour.
The drama unfolds and we have what seems to be a set-up by the host. There is a man among them who has dropsy. Now I wasn’t actually sure what dropsy is. I looked it up on the source of all knowledge—I Googled it and found out. It is the old term for Oedema which is an observable swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in the bodily tissue. So it seems that this man—who had a condition that Jesus couldn’t miss—was invited there to be bait to trap Jesus in a blasphemy. They probably thought that Jesus might be moved by his condition and heal him. And as we are told it is the Sabbath and therefore he would have performed work on the Sabbath and broken the Holiness code.
However, Jesus is no fool (except perhaps for Christ). He beats them to the punch-line so to speak. He asks the assembled religious leaders and lawyers, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” They know that they have been caught in the trap they set for Jesus so they do the only thing they can and say nothing. He goes ahead and heals the man. He doesn’t however stop there. He uses the opportunity to show them what they should know as religious leaders. He shows them that the law does allow work to be done if it is for compassionate reasons. They would rescue an animal that was in need of saving. Would not God expect the same for His people?
He then gives them the final lesson—the icing on the spiritual cake so to speak. He gives them a lesson in true hospitality and shows them what the spirit of the law is. He shows them that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. They are not to hold that they are the important ones. They are to humble themselves. They are to be poor in spirit as Jesus will later tell us in Beatitudes. Then they will be blessed.
Where does this leave us? Do we then have to remember to show true hospitality to other? That sounds fairly easy doesn’t it? If we invite someone to dinner we should not do it for nefarious reasons. All well and good. However, with Jesus I don’t think we get off that easy. Jesus is calling us to true humility in all aspects of life. It is like the Pharisee who is beside the tax collector praying “Thank God I am not like the tax collector”. We are like that when we hold ourselves to deserve the best seat at the table in all aspect of life we are not humbling ourselves as we are called to do by Jesus.
When we engage with someone what kind of an internal conversation do we have? Do we compare ourselves to the other person and see where we are better or not as good as that person? Do we put that person in a category of worthy of our friendship or even our attention? We consider if this person is worth our while. What do we think about those who are struggling? Do we categorize them as the worthy poor who should get our help or even the help of government? So we think that refugees don’t deserve our help because they are probably terrorist anyway. Jesus didn’t worry about the worthiness of the man with dropsy—he healed him.
Admittedly it is hard to overcome what seems to be our natural inclination to judge others. However, Jesus also said judge not lest you be judged. It is hard not to judge and in some cases we need to judge; is something positive of negative; is someone acting for the benefit of others or out of selfishness? But when we judge we are called to see the child that God has created in each person we meet. We are called to see Jesus’ face in the face of the homeless person and the neighbour we don’t get along with. We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us. It doesn’t seem easy but we are called to travel that road. It is a journey we were called to take at our baptism and it is one that continues all our life. Amen.