1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. – Luke 14:1-6 ESV
Luke has already established that there was a great divide between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel, particularly the Pharisees. They viewed Jesus with disdain and distrust, having determined that He was a danger to their way of life. From their viewpoint, the teaching of Jesus was divisive, encouraging the people to question the status quo. His seemingly radical views regarding the law were undermining their authority and damaging the carefully crafted reputations of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These men had fooled the people into believing that they were spiritually superior, having painstakingly kept every letter of the law. But Jesus had exposed them as hypocrites and fools.
“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” – Luke 11:39-40 ESV
They were all about appearances. Everything they did was meant to give the impression that they were faithful adherents to the law and, therefore, righteous before God and man. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of righteousness because He knew the true condition of their hearts. And He repeatedly exposed them for what they were.
“…you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God.” – Luke 11:42 NLT
“…you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11:43 NLT
“…you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.” – Luke 11:44 NLT
“…you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Luke 11:46 NLT
And these stinging indictments from Jesus infuriated these prideful and arrogant men, intensifying their hostility toward Him and prompting them to come up with plan for His elimination.
As Jesus was leaving, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT
Jesus had done little to win over these powerful and influential religious leaders. In fact, He had consistently exposed them as enemies of God, even describing them as the sons of Satan.
“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me!” – John 8:44-45 NLT
And, much to their chagrin and anger, Jesus went on to declare that they were not even children of God. “You don’t belong to God,” he told them (John 8:47 NLT). Not only that, they had no place in the kingdom of God.
“…you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” – Luke 11:52 NLT
And yet, even after all this, Luke describes Jesus accepting an invitation to dine in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. At first glance, this seems like a rather strange decision for Jesus to make. Luke even admits that the Pharisees, “were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1 ESV). In a sense, these men didn’t want to let Jesus out of their sight. In their effort to expose Jesus as a fraud and a violator of the law, they maintained a close watch over His every move. And it would seem that this dinner engagement was arranged to take place on the Sabbath, in the hopes that Jesus would once again break one of the many laws the Pharisees and their cohorts had made to regulate that holy day.
This whole dinner was a well-orchestrated set-up and Jesus saw through it. On seven separate occasions, Jesus had violated their Sabbath laws. Luke chapter 4 contains the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. That very same day, He had chosen to heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Luke chapter 6 records another occasion when Jesus healed someone of the Sabbath – in the synagogue. This time, it was a man who suffered from a withered hand. And in the audience that day were scribes and Pharisees who “watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And when Jesus healed the man, “they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV).
Time and time again, Jesus had purposefully chosen to violate their Sabbath laws. At one point, He even declared, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5 ESV). He knew that the Pharisees and scribes found His actions to be unacceptable and appalling. They viewed Him as a law-breaker who treated their sacrosanct religious regulations with disdain. But Jesus wanted them to wrestle with the letter of the law. He wanted them to understand God’s intentions when He gave them the law.
“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 NLT
For the Pharisees, the rules and regulations took precedence. They had made strict adherence to the law the end game. But, as the Son of God, Jesus knew that His Father’s real intentions for the law were about regulating man’s love for God and love for others. That’s why, when Jesus was asked to list the greatest of the commandments, He stated, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT).
The Pharisees were missing the point. Their love of law-keeping had long ago replaced their love for God and others. And the very fact that this ruler of the Pharisees had invited a man with dropsy to his dinner reveals the sad state of his heart. Most likely, this man suffered from edema, a painful condition that caused the accumulation of fluid in the body tissue or the body cavities. Luke seems to indicate that the man was little more than a prop, a predetermined tool of the Pharisee designed to set Jesus up. Luke states, “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy” (Luke 14:2 ESV). Seemingly out of nowhere, this man showed up. And the fact that he was at the party should send up red flags. The Pharisee would have viewed this man’s condition as the result of immorality. So, it would have been very uncharacteristic for this well-respected Pharisee to invite an obvious sinner into his home on the Sabbath – unless he had an ulterior motive. And Jesus seems to have seen through the Pharisee’s intentions. He raises the very same question he had asked in the synagogue just before He healed the man with the withered hand.
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” – Luke 14:3 ESV
He addressed this question to the ruler of the Pharisees and his esteemed guests, who were also Pharisees and scribes. These men were supposed to be the experts when it came to religious law, so Jesus asked them to deliver their outlook on the matter. But they remained silent. They were smart enough to know that this was a trick question. If they answered, anything they said could and would be used against them.
Since they refused to answer Jesus’ question, He took the liberty of healing the man and sending him on his way. And then Jesus turned to His host but addressed His question to everyone in the room.
“Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” – Luke 14:5 ESV
Jesus puts them on the spot by making the situation more practical and personal. If any of these men had a son who had fallen into a well on the Sabbath, they would do whatever it took to rescue him. They would even do the same thing for a beast of burden. And yet, they had probably become enraged when Jesus healed the man with dropsy. In their minds, the man had no value. He was of little worth because he was a sinner. They wrongly believed that he suffered from his debilitating disease because he had committed some egregious and unforgivable sin. In fact, he had probably violated one of God’s commandments.
But the question Jesus posed to his dinner companions was intended to expose their ignorance of God’s laws. Even Moses had recorded the heart behind the law when he wrote:
“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help.” – Exodus 23:4-5 NLT
Jesus knew that the Pharisees despised the man He had just healed. They saw him as the enemy. They hated him because they viewed him as a sinner and a violator of their precious laws. And they were unwilling to do anything that might make this man’s life remotely easier and more bearable. In fact, Jesus would later indict them for their hypocritical adherence to the law while ignoring the plight of those for whom the law was intended to help.
“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT
The Pharisees were at a loss as to how to respond to Jesus’ question. So, they refused to answer and their silence condemned them. They had just demonstrated that they had no love for God because they showed no love for those whom God had made. Their disdain for the man with dropsy was only exceeded by their disgust for the one who had just healed him. They continued to see Jesus as a lawbreaker and troublemaker. And, in their minds, the man who had just experienced healing remained just as guilty and worthy of condemnation as before. The miraculous change in his physical health had done nothing to alter his spiritual condition. Or so they thought. They just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and that He had come “to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.