It would have been quite the scene.
It was the sort of occasion that folks had been looking forward to. The house had to be cleaned, the food had to be prepared, the guests had to be invited. A dinner party at the house of a ruler of the pharisees was a big deal, especially if it was on the Sabbath. It may have been part of a weekly routine or something a little more extraordinary – but either way, we are told that at on this occasion Jesus is being watched.
And so here we are in the home of an honorable ruler of the pharisees on a holy day, a day that is set apart and special, a day that is clean. As the honored guests filter in, we run into a surprise. Someone who is not on the guest list shows up – more than that, this gentlemen was, well he was a little bloated – he was suffering from dropsy, a fluid retention disease and as such he was, likely, labeled unclean. He shouldn’t have been there, he could have ruined the whole evening. Just being in the house was a bad enough – uninvited, unclean, unwelcome. But if he were to so much as bump into one of the honored guests – well, touching him would make you unclean.
There he is, in their midst. And before the lawyers and pharisees start asking questions, Jesus speaks. “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath or not?” … silence…
Jesus steps forward – ignoring the man’s unclean status (or perhaps not), ignoring the eyes that were watching him so closely (or perhaps not), ignoring that some might say he was breaking the sabbath law (or perhaps not). Jesus steps forward, takes hold of the man and heals him. Jesus has, in just one sentence, broken the law of Moses by working on the sabbath, and himself become unclean by taking hold of the man with dropsy – interestingly in taking hold of him the man is healed, restored, perhaps one might even say made clean, things have been turned on their head here – instead of Jesus being made unclean, the man is restored, made clean. Jesus sends the clean man on his way and the dinner party is able to move on.
While the Gospel lesson notes that Jesus was being watched, as the party goes on, Jesus makes some observations of his own.
As folks came to the table they were all aiming for seats of honor. It was an interesting game of musical chairs, or perhaps one could say a game of thrones. Looking back on a story like this one, or trying to imagine how it would have looked is… well, all these big wigs fighting over who gets to sit where, it is rather pathetic.
You almost have to feel bad for these folks, there they are squabbling over chairs around a table like kids fighting over toys. It is easy to look back on this story as pathetic, until it we recognize that things may not have changed all that much, that folks, that we might still be tempted to squabble over seats of honor and the like. To get caught up in a game of musical chairs, when there is real life to be lived.
Jesus, discredits the whole game, in fact he turns things on their head once more – those who lift themselves up will be brought low and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.
If we trust that Jesus is, in fact, Lord… If we trust that his way, is indeed the way of life, then things might not be as they seem. We live in a world where climbing ladders and making something of ourselves is valued. We live in a world where upward mobility is a near universal goal – folks should be able to move up, to listen the the music and perhaps find a higher seat in life.
And yet, Jesus says, “those who lift themselves up will be brought low and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
So much for upward mobility, ladder climbing, pulling one’s self up by his bootstraps, and the like. To be Jesus’ people, to embrace him, to follow him means to be a people of downward mobility. To be a people not looking for a position of power, but taking the role of a servant.
This isn’t the sort of thing that just comes up once or twice, it really is at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus’ mother Mary said it all the way back in chapter 1, God has brought the mighty down from their thrones and lifted up the low ones. Jesus is, of course, born to an unwed mother, living in poverty. He spends his time with sinners and tax collectors, he is rejected by the powerful ones, and executed by the rulers.
Those who lift themselves up will be brought low and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.
Jesus, the humble one, was raised from among the dead, he was lifted up. It is, the humble way of Jesus that leads to lasting life.
Those who lift themselves up will be brought down and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.
It isn’t just a new take on an old game, it is new way of life that Jesus leads his people to. To be great in Jesus’ kingdom is to take on the role of the servant – to be humble, to live in a downwardly mobile sort of way, trusting that his way, Jesus’ way, is indeed the way of life. Amen.