And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this. (Luke 14:3-6 NASB)
I have been reminded by my wife many times that when I prepare, my sermons are shorter. I don’t preach any more, but the reminder has always stuck with me. Now, when I do get the very rare opportunity to preach, my preparation is very different, and my sermon is often long. So, I received the advice or reminder, but I didn’t necessarily heed it. The thing is, preachers love to preach. Getting us to keep our mouths shut isn’t easy. So why were these dinner guests so quiet?
After the setting of this meal, we have the one-sided discourse. The weird thing is, all the other guests are Pharisees and lawyers. These guys make their mark in their society by arguing…and here they’re silent. And we just glibly zip on by and don’t notice a bunch of silent professional debaters. I think we should. Because why they were silent may help us understand how Jesus behaves with them at this meal. And, therefore, how He would respond to us when we practice such silliness.
First off, the obvious reason is probably the first and best reason for why they were silent: They were watching to see what Jesus would do without offering the “assistance” of their perspective. I’m sure they thought they knew the answer without doubt, without question, without any option for another opinion. But they were also pretty sure Jesus didn’t. It was a trap, a snare, an opportunity for the offense of Jesus to become His downfall. It was silly.
But I think there was something else going on here. I believe, to some extent, they were aware they didn’t actually know and wanted to know what Jesus thought. Think about it, these guys are smart. Jesus goes about healing, which is a testimony that God is with Him, and even heals on the Sabbath, something they thought was a deal-breaker with God. Jesus represents a conundrum. How can it be that He can heal on the Sabbath and be acceptable to God? And so the wonder, is it real, does He actually heal on the Sabbath, could it be true that God actually accepts such behavior? And more than that, if so why? They have assumed that Sabbath-keeping is one of those things that separates them from Gentiles, rigorous keeping of the Sabbath would be vital to that distinction. So, how can Jesus flagrantly do what would be considered work on the Sabbath and God be okay with it?
They want to see this for themselves. They want to hear the explanation for themselves. They have no idea what they’re in for, but they wander in ignorantly to the arena with Deity. So, they set the trap and wait. Their opponent shows up, sniffs about, and then sits down to eat the bait, licks their lips and looks around for more. No trap. It’s pretty underwhelming. Jesus comes in, sees the man, asks a question of them, they don’t answer (it’s a test, no cheating), He heals the man, and sending him away asks about a basic loophole in their own Sabbath rules. How did they not see that one coming? I suspect they did. I doubt Jesus was the first one to ask or challenge the group about what validly fits through the loophole. Jesus is simply the first “Healer” to do it.
The thing I see here is that these guys were first silent to test, then silent because they were tested themselves. They weren’t “bad guys” because they tested Jesus, they had, over the course of years and generations, argued themselves into a position that neglected the value of people, even their fellow Hebrews. The irony is that those people were who they were trying to distinguish from the Gentiles through their interpretation of the Sabbath law. So while they succeeded in distinguishing, they failed to protect and value them. Oh Dang! I’m sure “Sabbath Law Discussions” kicked around the loophole of saving someone in well, or pulling an ox from a ditch, or watering the donkey, or whatever. And clearly Jesus isn’t healing for money, the dropsy-man didn’t pay Jesus before he wandered off. It wasn’t Jesus “occupation” as much as it was what occupied a lot of His time. So you can understand their confusion perhaps.
I think they had nothing to say because a light bulb just lit in their head. It was an “oh-yeah” moment. It wasn’t revolutionary in the sense they’d never been down that particular road, it was transformational because they hadn’t noticed they had forgotten an important element, caring for and valuing the people. And I doubt very seriously it was because they didn’t know that was important. I suspect they got further and further away from it because a line crossed many years ago became blurred and forgotten. They probably assumed that by distinguishing themselves as a people from Gentiles, they were taking care of and valuing their people. I can see how it could happen. I’ve seen people there who, if you were to point it out, would be as silent, and probably, like these people here, eventually react against being called out on it. But I’ve also seen people change once called out on it. I’m one. I didn’t figure this out on my own, I’ve had to be shown where I was ignoring the people’s needs and valuing them.
Have you gotten to that point? It’s been a while for me, and I’m now struggling against the tide in my church to point out need or encourage service. But where are you in this struggle? What do you learn from the silent dinner guests? Or what do you learn from Jesus’ explanation of Sabbath law?