We're so glad you chose to join us today!
When we meet together on Sunday mornings, we take time to share any joys or concerns we have. If you have a prayer request, please add it to the comments on this post. When you are ready, use the Catholic prayer for healing below (source) to get started.
Lord Jesus, heal me. Heal in me whatever you see needs healing. Heal me of whatever might separate me from you. Heal my memory, heal my heart, heal my emotions, heal my spirits, heal my soul. Lay your hands upon me and Heal me through your love for me. Amen
Today's lesson is on Luke 14:1-6.
Loving God by Loving the Least
Our book opens with this story. As attendees at the memorial service for Dorthy Day (1897-1980) listened to the sermon they were reminded of the following quote from her writing: “You love God just as much as the one you love least.” This quote was her way of paraphrasing Jesus' commands in Luke 10:25-37 to love God and show love and mercy to others. The minister giving the sermon went on to describe how this quote anchored Dorothy's like and work.
Demonstrations of mercy, love and justice have been the tenets of the Catholic Workers Movement, established by Dorothy and others in the 1930's. The movement consist of over 200 communities (houses) in 14 countries. Each house works to show hospitality and mercy to the most vulnerable members of their city. This work is done through their feeding of the hungry, tending to the sick, and providing stable housing for the unhoused.
God desires that his people love him and love their neighbors. People can demonstrate such love toward others through acts of mercy. In doing so, God's people follow Jesus' command to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). This lesson's Scriptures reveals how Jesus responded to a group of people who wanted to add boundaries and limitations to acts of mercy.
This lesson depicts the third occasion in Luke's Gospel that Jesus shared a meal with a Pharisee. All three interactions share a common pattern of events. First, a Pharisee invited Jesus to join the meal. Second, a tense moment between Jesus and the host led to a conversation regarding issues of religious observances. Third, Jesus used the opportunity to instruct those in attendance on issues regarding how to follow God. In doing so, Jesus taught his fellow diners to act mercifully in their dealings with other people.
The issue of doing work on the Sabbath is the primary concern in this lesson. The Jewish Sabbath was established based on the day that God rested after six days of creation. As a result, people were commanded to ceased work on the Sabbath. Such requirements regarding that day were a sign of holiness between God and his people.
As the ancient Israelites left Egypt, they were commanded to take certain steps to prepare for Sabbath observance. Later, as the people entered the promised land, the Law of Moses provided further descriptions regarding proper observance of the Sabbath. Defiance of these commands brought harsh consequences to the people. The Israelites understood the Sabbath was a delight and day for worship. Even psalms were to be sung on that day.
By the first century AD, certain expectations regarding proper adherence of the Sabbath had been established by the Jewish religious leaders. In the time between the testaments, an oral tradition later known as Mishna, (rabbinic law) attempted to define the rules regarding proper Sabbath observance. These included nuance definitions of work, as well as complex regulations regarding what was allowed and disallowed on the Sabbath. Such intricacies made it challenging for most first century Jews to accurately interpret how they should observe the Sabbath.
Jesus never disputed the importance of the Sabbath. His high regard for it can be seen in his habit of teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Further, he was willing to use the day to show mercy toward suffering people. As “Lord.. of the Sabbath”, Jesus demonstrated the true intent of the Sabbath: to remind God's people of his mercy. The day was not to be a religious burden or an excuse to limit work of love and mercy.
Luke 14: 1-6
Because Jesus was considered a rabbi by at least one member of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, the group likely deemed him to be an appropriate guest for a meal. They could discuss the law and its associated tradition and commentary. As a Pharisee, the host likely enjoyed some degree of wealth and probably held in high regard as a teacher of the law. The Pharisees who assembled for this meal treated Jesus with suspicion. They watched Jesus in order to find fault with him.
In front of Jesus was a man who suffered abnormal swelling. This might have been caused by an underlying issue regarding the heart, kidney or liver. Today we would have treated this with diuretics, but no such treatment was available then. The man would have continued to suffer and would have depended on the charity of others to meet his basic needs.
Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?' This question concerned the heart of the Law of Moses. The law was never intended to burden the people. And Jesus never abolished the Law of Moses. Instead, he wanted his audience to consider the principles of goodness and righteousness belonging to the Law of Moses. To heal on the Sabbath violated the Pharisees' strict reading of the law regarding what was acceptable on that day. God does not desire for humans to limit works of mercy, either regarding the timing or the recipient of those works.
When the Pharisees remained silent, Jesus healed the man.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” The Law of Moses required that people help lost or injured livestock of neighbors and enemies alike. An attitude of mercy, even to livestock, was at the heart of these commands. Without assistance, the stranded animal was at risk of suffering injury or facing harm from predators. Jesus expected that all of the guests at the meal would agree that showing mercy to an animal even on the Sabbath made sense. In that case, how much more legitimate was showing mercy to people on the Sabbath? Possible endangerment of a child would also be an appropriate and necessary reason for a person to act on the Sabbath. If a person showed effort to save livestock on the Sabbath, then that person would surely show more effort to save a child.
Jesus could have waited until the next day to heal the man. However, the opportunity for Jesus to show mercy presented itself on the Sabbath. The Sabbath served human well-being, not the other way around.
For the second time during the meal, the Pharisees were left speechless. The silence of the Pharisees did not end the meal. Instead, Jesus used their silence as an opportunity to question them and teach them. (Luke 14: 7-24, Parable of the banquet)
The emphasis of this story is not on the ailing man. Instead, this story at its heart is a caution against focusing on religious practices at the expense of mercy. Jesus was not trying to nullify the Pharisees' practice of observing Sabbath. Not only did the Sabbath require a pause on work, but it also provided time for people to consider how they could show mercy to others.
Further, the question of whether or not the person could heal on the Sabbath was an obscure point. Most people are unable to heal another person on any day of the week. Only the one is the Lord of the Sabbath has the ability to heal on the Sabbath. Sometimes we unintentionally limit our expectations of what God ought to do. What are some traditions we hold to that perpetuated this? God's work is not limited by human expectations. We are to trust God and his timing of his work. When we exercise faith by trusting him in this way, we commit to live of mercy, following the ways of our heavenly Father.
Twentieth-century Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Herschel (1907 – 1972) describes the Sabbath as being an expression of holiness based in time. Although Christians today are not required to observe the Jewish Sabbath, we can still apply similar principles. The idea of observing specific time in order to show mercy in sustained and tangible ways. Although we may sometimes ge t tunnel vision and focus on other parts of our busy lives, we must remember to keep mercy at the forefront of our minds, regardless of the situation.
Heavenly Father, you have shown us great mercy, just as you have shown mercy to your people throughout history. We want to be people marked by lives of mercy. Heal us from spiritual ailments that causes us to act in unloving ways. Grant us deeper awareness of the needs of our neighbors so that we might show love and mercy. Help us be merciful, just as you are merciful. In the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Questions for discussion
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on John 7:14-24.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.