'they were watching him closely' Luke 14.1
Jesus cured this man of dropsy, which 'ask.com' tells me was the old term for 'Oedema (swelling), often caused by kidney or heart disease. Dropsy would be called congestive heart failure today.'
The first issue that Jesus addresses is that those guardians of the faith refused to help someone else on religious grounds.
The second issue Jesus addresses is the hypocrisy of those very same guardians of faith who would immediately repudiate their own ruling if the person or thing were something precious to them, such as their own child or their own ox.
These guardians of the faith were watching Jesus closely, but fail to see that Jesus was judging them by their own actions and inactions.
The sin is not that we might refuse to help someone else because we believe it to be beyond our means, that we might put ourselves in personal danger, that we simply can't be bothered, or that we might be pestered continually by begging letters, phone calls, callers at the door or e-mails. These are probably reasonable enough reasons to deny help. It seems charity has become a bit of a business these days. No, the issue is that the guardians of the faith considered helping someone else inimicable to their pure faith. They didn't want to get their hands dirty, dealing with such mundane things, being concerned for such insignificant people.
So their sin, their sin of omission, was deliberately done and justified on religious grounds. In this case it would supposedly break the Sabbath regulations. And Jesus says that this is wrong.
And this was the way Jesus operated. He associated with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners with 'gay abandon', which horrified the guardians of the true faith. In our day, it would more likely mean extending hospitality to gay and lesbian persons.
So the primary message today is that the real sin that Jesus addresses is not personal lack of charity, but a corporate theology that denies integrity to others. In the discipleship of Jesus there is no room for challenging others, marginalizing others, alienating others, or condemning others to eternal damnation. In the discipleship of Jesus we treat everyone else as if they were our own daughter or son.
I also note that we have two stories about healing on the sabbath, we read the first last Sunday which took place in the synagogue, and today, in the house of the leader of the Pharisees. On both occasions Jesus initiates the healing and questions those who would disapprove. He takes the initiative to include others, and to defend his inclusion of them in opposition to the guardians of the true faith who would have ignored their plights.
Now it is clear that when something is repeated, we have to take particular note of the message. It is not repeated to bore us. They are not both included because the writer didn't know which he or she should leave out. They are repeated to 1) make sure we get the message and 2) that we should note the differences and see that these differences tell us something as well.
It is significant to me that Jesus confronts religious discrimination both in worship and in the home. The one leads to the other. Whether discrimination begins in the home and infects the church, or the other way around, doesn't really matter. It is still discrimination. And this again leads me to realise that just doing what one's parents do is not likely to lead to a better society – even the mafia family do this – they would be terrified to do anything else!
So we are called to despise both a natural family and a religious family that only concerns itself with their own welfare; the welfare of the people and possessions precious to those 'inside'. And when we see the 'church' proclaiming eternal blessings for those 'inside' and something other for those 'outside', it is essentially based on selfishness, that Jesus and some others, both 'christian' and otherwise, rightly condemn.
It is only when the church includes all; loving rather than challenging others, proclaiming equality rather than marginalizing others, including rather than alienating others, and proclaiming a kingdom open to all rather than condemning others to eternal damnation; that it really becomes the church of God.
And then we come to the words about the place of honour at the wedding banquet. And when I think about this I think of the various factions within 'my' Anglican Church vying for pre-eminence. The Anglo-Catholics think that they will have a place of honour at the wedding feast, likewise the Evangelicals and the Charismatics. Those who have kept themselves pure by rejecting the ordination of women also want likewise. Those of the mainline churches who have 'Episcopal' ordination or otherwise. Those who religiously keep holy the Sabbath day, be it Saturday or Sunday. Those who defiantly call themselves 'christians' and proclaiming their faith to all and sundry. I mean the list is endless of reasons to differentiate ourselves from others - to pretend that we will be eternally favoured.
And inevitably we will find that someone more distinguished than ourselves has indeed been invited, the most surprising person of all, the very same Jesus who associated with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners – those who never expected to even be invited into the feast, will be invited to the head table with Jesus, ahead of us all.
And this is the rub. While we are fighting for pre-eminent places in the feast we have failed to appreciate the whole raison d'être for the feast; that everyone is included, like 'the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind' – those we are called to invite to our own eucharists. We are bidden to welcome those who do not see the good news, those who cannot contribute to church growth, those unable to travel and take the good news elsewhere.
It seems to me that there is little point bemoaning the paucity of attendance at divine worship these days, when the church has lost its entire raison d'être. There is little point in inviting others, when really we only want our 'friends', our 'brothers', 'our relatives' or 'rich neighbours' to come. And perhaps this is enough to cause some in the church to develop congestive heart failure, but Jesus is here and he is able to cure even this – if we indeed want him to!