And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away.
Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day or not? Healing is sort of the whole point of the sabbath, but sin makes you so blind that you see the day as an obligation. Maybe you’re not hung up on the “do no work” thing like the pharisees. But still, Old Adam always sees worship as a burden, not a gift. The Pharisees made hard work of not working. Travel on the sabbath is forbidden. Back in the day the they would carry pebbles from home and drop them every so often so they were never too far from their land. Today orthodox Jews walk to temple instead of drive. It takes a special kind of sinner to make rest that much work. We scoff, but we’ve made worship such a burden that we act like we deserve extra credit just for putting on pants to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation from the God who died to win it and deliveres it to you through a miracle. Sin makes you stupid. It changes how you see the world. It blinds you to how things are supposed to be and focuses you on yourself until you think you’ve got it all figured out, but anyone looking at you sees this disconnect. You’re walking around with rocks instead of driving. Is that really rest? You say you love God and trust Him with your eternal soul, but there are weeks where you literally prefer waffles. What’s wild, though, isn’t just the excuses we have. It’s how normal it all seems while we make them.
Just watch. Everyone sits down to a dinner worse than any uncomfortable Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. It’s awkward to the point it’s funny. The pharisees are so proud of doing nothing they stick a suffering man in front of Jesus and would honestly rather see him ignored than helped. Lord, save us from the same. Sure, the healer is there, but they’re more uncomfortable with Jesus helping a man in need on a day set aside for the unclean to become clean than they are with the status quo. So they just sit there watching. Waiting to be offended.
And this poor guy is so disfigured by disease, so uncomfortable, so afraid to say anything to draw attention to what everyone is already thinking about, that he becomes nothing more than what he would give anything not to be. A counterpoint to how good the pharisees look. He sits there knowing he doesn’t belong, but he can’t do or say anything to change it. He has dropsy, a disease where fluid pockets build up inside you to make you look like a monster. He’s there as the ice sculpture centerpiece that reminds everyone what kind of party they’re at.
Jesus breaks the awkward silence. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Or He tried to, but they remained silent. So much for ice breakers. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. Everybody gets what they desire. The man who can’t utter a single petition through all his shame is healed. The pharisees get nothing, just like they wanted. And Jesus gets to save a sinner in need and preach to those who do not yet believe. We’ve done the same thing every single sabbath since.
God calls us to remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy. He doesn’t want you to have a vacation from work. He wants you to have time so He can spend it with you. For you. For every illness, every sin, and every shame. For every time we just want to crawl into a hole and pull the whole thing on top of us just to disappear and not be the centerpiece everyone talks about. He wants to be near sinners to help, forgive, comfort, and save. He shows up for the man everyone’s staring at and for the one suffering in silence that nobody noticed. He wants the feast to be full of the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and even the pharisees who only want to trap Him. The sabbath day is not about behaving like Jesus. It’s about being near Him. It’s about Him wanting to be near us.
Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. This means we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it. This means that God actually wants to make you holy so badly He sets aside a day to get it done. He actually wants to show up to be with you. What’s wild is how normal He makes it seem while He rips open tombs and makes the unclean clean. How normal He makes this service look to us, even while He does the most incredible things here.
He norms the man that sin made a monster. The man with dropsy becomes a face in the crowd, hearing the word and holding fast to it in faith. A saint coming out of the great tribulation, clothed in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb. Jesus got that man from ashamed and wishing he was dead to living and singing hymns in heaven with just a word. It’s finished. That’s all it took. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But this isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus for you. The exalted one was humbled on the cross. The humbled man, suffering the pain of disease and the shame of everyone’s stares is exalted. Brought from disease to salvation when Jesus spoke for him on that cross. That Jesus is here to speak words to you.
You aren’t made holy by where you sit. It’s not by how you behave or what you do or don’t do. You’re made holy by Jesus. He died for you. Bore your sins and your sicknesses on a cross and left them dead in the tomb. Then rose to be present for you in word and sacrament. Truly present. We don’t talk about God here. God shows up in, with, and under bread and wine for you to eat and drink. He’s actually here, because the sabbath day is for healing. Where else would He be? He made this day just to be with you. To confront what’s wrong, not so that we learn how to call it normal and excuse it, but so that we find help for it in a God who defies all pretense and heals whether people like it or not. Take. Eat. Your sins are forgiven you. You are not what people look at. You are not the excuses you make for the thing you’re too blind to even call a problem. You are not unclean. You are child of God. You are holy, because God shows up today to make you that way. Because today isn’t made holy by us. You can’t clean something with a filthy rag. Even one full of all your righteous deeds. Only something holy can give holiness. So the Holy One of Israel shows up here to make you holy. Take, eat. Your Sabbath rest is here for you. Amen.