From time to time we all find ourselves in situations we prefer to avoid. Situations where we find ourselves uncomfortable, even out of our depth.
Indeed, some of us may not like large crowds. Others may prefer to accept invitations only if there will be someone else there that they know. And some of us would prefer to avoid situations where we will be the centre of attention.
But then it’s only natural to try to avoid situations in which we may feel uncomfortable. However, that is not always possible. And sometimes we might know that, despite our misgivings, we really should make the effort.
And in the passage from Luke, that may well have been one of those times for Jesus. Because where we find Jesus is in the home of a prominent Pharisee, surrounded by lawyers and Pharisees (1).
Now, usually with the lawyers and Pharisees, they were noted for their suspicious nature, and their constant search for evidence to convict Jesus of wrong doing. Nevertheless, Jesus accepted the invitation, and immediately he was in trouble.
It was the Sabbath—a day on which the Pharisees and lawyers had a strict code of what they could and could not do (2-6). And the problem was that Jesus was faced with a man who had a terrible disease—dropsy—a disease which involves the body swells up due to fluid forming in the cavities and tissues. Now Jesus couldn’t help noticing the man, and he was aware that everyone’s eyes were on him.
He would have felt the restrictions of the Pharisees and lawyers regarding working on the Sabbath. He would have felt their unspoken challenge. But he would also have felt compassion for the man too. And so instead of healing the man first, and arguing about it later, which was his more usual manner, this time Jesus did it the other way around. He engaged the religious leaders into discussing their rules about the Sabbath first. And this time the Pharisees and lawyers remained unusually silent; they had no answer to give. Then, in the absence of any objections, Jesus took the man, healed him, and sent him home.
Now you can imagine the tension in the room. Jesus had just broken the strict law of the Pharisees and lawyers about not working on the Sabbath. He’d given them the evidence that they wanted to dispose of him, to get him out of their way. So, in defence, Jesus did the only thing that he could, he took the initiative once again and raised a question regarding the legitimacy of his act based on their own teaching. A question to which they could give no valid answer because their rules were so obviously contrary to the love of God.
Talk of situations that would you like to avoid. Jesus found himself in a situation that most of us would do almost anything to avoid. It was a hostile situation. And yet Jesus remained calm, he saw what was going on, and he used the situation to not only heal the man, but to show the religious leaders that they they’d got all wrong.
But not only that, he also went on to challenge them about their other practices (7-11). And he specifically challenged them in regard to their strict adherence to social ranking—about who was more important that who. And again he showed them that the ways of God and the ways of man were very different. And just as they were wrong about working on the Sabbath, so were they wrong about their practices in regard to places of honour too.
It’s an impressive story, not least of which is the illustration of how Jesus coped, despite being in a very hostile environment. But there are three things in this story of which we should take particular note:
And the first is that Jesus accepted the invitation to eat in the Pharisees house, knowing full well what he would be facing. He may not have been aware in advance, that he would face a man with dropsy at the meal, but he didn’t go out of his way to avoid the situation either.
So as people of faith, there may be times when our natural instinct is to avoid certain situations. But sometimes we need to accept that God is calling us to stand up and be counted too—to face up to a situation, no matter how uncomfortable that may make us, or how hostile the situation may be.
The second point is that the story shows that there is a big difference between our way of doing things and God’s way. The Pharisees and the lawyers did not approve of the man being healed, and they certainly sought the best places of honour for themselves. And yet Jesus demonstrated in the healing of the man with dropsy, and his teaching about places of honour, that in God’s eyes they’d got it all wrong.
And what that means for us is that we need to be constantly on the alert. We need to be constantly reviewing the rules by which we live our lives—and our common practices. We need to check that we too haven’t got it all wrong. We need to make sure that our way of living is in accordance with God’s wishes, and not simply to satisfy the rules of man.
And the third point is that the rules of the Pharisees, and the seeking of places of honour, actually acted as barriers to them having faith. If they’d been open to Jesus, Jesus would not have had to take such a defensive posture. He would have healed the man and they would have all rejoiced. And the fact that he had to challenge them first, before he healed the man, and then explain it all over again, says much about their relationship (or lack of it), with God.
The implication of course is that if we persist in doing things our way—or man’s way—we will not only get it all wrong, but we will put up barriers between ourselves and God as well. So we need to make sure that nothing gets in the way—our rules and laws, or even our way of life—between a healthy relationship with our God.
Now all of us will, at times, be faced with situations we would like to avoid. And sometimes that’s possible. But the example of Jesus is one we can all learn from. Indeed, sometimes we need to face those situations; sometimes they are situations we should not try to avoid.
Our ways are not always God’s ways. Sometimes he may want to use us to teach others, in situations that we might feel uncomfortable. And we certainly need to be active in breaking down the barriers between ourselves—and the people around us—and God.
Posted: 6th November 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis