The Pharisees have Jesus where they want Him today. It is the Sabbath. There is this Sabbath meal, probably at the home of a wealthy member of the community of the Pharisees. The text calls him a “ruler” of that group. This likely would have been a regular occurance in the ancient world. Throughout the Mediterranean basin wealthy people hosted meals for the local populace to ensure their support, both politically and otherwise. The Pharisees make sure that someone with dropsy is in plain view. We would say the man has edema today, the swelling of the extremities that often accompanies a failing cardiovascular system. What will Jesus do? It is the Sabbath. Work is forbidden. Will Jesus heal this man?
Edema is hard to look at. It is painful and looks painful. The Pharisees have turned this poor man and his pain into a tool, a trap of sorts. Jesus exposes their cruelty and shames them. He heals the man and goes into an expose of just how much they are enslaved to the very Greco-Roman culture they seemingly despise and reject. It is not a Torah culture which throws this sort of a dinner party. This jockeying for place, this need to be first, this shame at being further down on the patron-client pecking order.
The preacher this week will want to ask how much of the world’s ways have invaded and corrupted our fellowships. How has marketing caused us to instrumentalize our interactions with people. Do we sing our praise songs to God from a joyful heart or do we sing them to bring in a youthful generation who are otherwise absent? It likely is not only one or the other. It is most likely both. But how much of what we do is marketing and an attempt to manipulate people? We are not throwing large meals for the whole village like the ruler of the Pharisees in this text, but do we want people to notice our ministry to the poor, our quilts we make, our foodbank donations? Or do we do what we do in order to please God? Again, it is likely not an either/or, but a both/and situation.
Of course it is also not hard to see other ways that we have let the world shape our community and fellowship. Do we look too often like the backbiting crowd, enslaved to our passions, and devouring one another at conventions? Do we look for glory instead of service? Do we imagine that the law and power will change things instead of relying on the Gospel and the gentle Spirit of God? How will we look upon this world’s pain and respond in the love of Christ?