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?” (Luke 14:5 NASB)
Read this explanation of Jesus through a few times, and hopefully it becomes clear that oxen falling into wells is probably not a daily occurrence. What is even odder is the juxtaposition of the son and the ox. An inside-joke of my wife and I has to do with a comedian we can’t remember and his poking fun at the old TV show Lassie. Lassie says, “Bark!” The person looks at Lassie and says, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy wander down a trail, look down a hole, and is now trapped in a well over at the Johnson Farm?” And so this example or explanation of Jesus makes me smile a bit.
The word translated as “well” by so many translations refers to the Middle Eastern “cistern” where run-off water from the meager rains was collected. It was often an open or sometimes covered pit, and often dry. The King James Version translates it as “pit” as does the New Living Translation. This is probably preferred, and makes the example a bit less funny. The term “well” in English conjures up images of a bricked in, roofed, circle with windlass and bucket. An ox falling into something like this is sort of funny, and I’m fairly certain that was not what Jesus was after here.
Even so, Jesus mentions a son or an ox. Why these two? Before (Luke 13:15) He refers to a donkey untied to water. What I wonder is if Jesus contextualizes His examples. So, back in Luke 13, the synagogue leader may have untied his donkey that very morning to water it. Here, I wonder if one or more of the guests or the host even, had a son mishap involving a pit, and another a similar problem with an ox. Or maybe the son and the ox in the same pit? Anyway, had that been something commonly known to the guests what it does is serve to punctuate the lesson even more strongly. Not only does God work through Jesus on the Sabbath to heal, but Jesus knows stuff He couldn’t or that they couldn’t explain how He knew.
I don’t know that. I don’t know for certain that one or more of the guests had earlier mishaps involving farm animals, children, and pits. Luke doesn’t include that detail, and without it, the point Jesus makes remains the same. It’s not necessary to go there. In a sense, I’m reading into the passage a habit I have in contextualizing my examples/analogies to the person I’m using it with. But that’s my habit, it isn’t necessarily Jesus’. I like the thought though. I like the idea that Jesus does that with these guys, because as you read through the account of his meal no one seems comfortable being around Jesus. It would explain what it was about Jesus that made the entire company of Pharisees so silent around Him. On the other hand, we don’t really know if they were all that silent either. They could have been milling about speaking as they negotiated for the best place at the table. We don’t know really. They just never seem to say anything to Jesus.
So, with or without Jesus contextualizing His example, the point remains that a person is more important than an ox. But how about more than a son? I think here Jesus is pointing out that they “heal” people on the Sabbath too. They wouldn’t think twice, but only “their people”, and I think that’s where Jesus has a problem with them. So regardless of whether this was a personal example using two guests or not, people matter. And these guys should know that…already. It’s actually a powerful example to put the son and the ox together because one is obvious, and other is obvious; but together they are powerful in showing the glaring mistake they have made in their assumptions. Also notice Jesus doesn’t call them “hypocrites”. He’s not being mean here, but gentle. Odd don’t you think?
So, what do you learn as you consider Jesus’ choice of example, His choice of demeanor, and His point about people? It’s kind of a lot to get from a single sentence.