“Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Trinity 17 – October 1, 2023

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01. October 2023
Trinity 17
Luke 14:1-11

Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Gospel presents the Lord Christ, what he is, and what we have to expect from him. And thus, faith and love are pointed out to us. It is a necessary doctrine, which we must believe, namely, how to deal with the law and how far it shall be kept. Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath? The Pharisee’s question gets to the heart of the matter of the Law. What is it given for? Is it given for slavish obedience, or is it given for the sake of love? 

Drilling deeper, what is the role of the Law and the conscience? The conscience is that moral sense of right and wrong, guiding and directing a person’s ethical behavior. We know that the conscience can either be uninformed or misinformed. Our moral sense is informed as our parents raised us with words, rules, and discipline. Our conscience is misinformed when our parents, teachers, preachers, and civil authorities give us lies contrary to God’s Word, laws that do not punish evil or reward the good according to God’s Word, and discipline us with the authority given to them in God’s Word. 

The Scriptures are careful and delicate in how they treat the consciences. They are careful only to command what God has commanded and to remain silent where God has not spoken. God’s Word describes what faith toward Him and what love for the neighbor cannot be. This you have come to know and believe from the Ten Commandments. But they do not describe in detail what faith and love will be in your God-given vocations at home, church, and the community. This is left to your Christian freedom, as Zecharias sang, “We, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74).

Of course, to be free is not the same as to do as you please. You are not made free by ignoring God and His Word. He who acts contrary to the will of God follows the course of this world and serves the prince of the spirit, which is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2; 1 Cor 12:2ff). All our deeds have their source either in God or in his enemy. Or as Jesus put it, “he that sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).

Even worse is that there is in our own inner nature something that is not free and is held captive by a force that wants us to resist God. Scripture speaks of this as “the flesh” and says that it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be. “With my flesh, I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:23). Usually, we do not recognize our bondage until we try earnestly to serve God and to live in honesty and love with our neighbor. Then we discover that “the evil I do not want is what I do” and that “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:19, 14). 

In their desperate attempts to be released from this slavery, people often become more enchained than ever. They try to be more strict and ethical to win God’s favor. They intensify their demands on themselves and others. They become legalistic and quick to judge. They entangle their lives with morality rules and man-made teachings and concern themselves with what the Bible calls “human precepts and doctrines, rigor of devotion, and severity of the body” (1 Tim 4:1ff). St. Paul says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1-3). The Pharisees, too, are examples with their hundreds of rules about the tithe, about the Sabbath, and about things unclean.

From all of this, there is only one way to be free. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He releases us first from our guilt, and thus also from our despair concerning the past and from ourselves. He releases us from the dominion of sin. We may resist, and in this life, we are forever doing so. But “sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14). At last he frees us from bondage under the whims of men’s imagined and invented laws. Christ has made us free that we may be free indeed. The Scriptures state specifically that we must not be entangled again in bondage by some new slavery. We must not be led astray and be frightened by people who want to set up other requirements for salvation than the one that really matters, namely faith in Jesus.

But this freedom does not mean self-indulgence. We must not use our freedom in such a way that we give any “opportunity to the flesh” (Gal 5:13). It is only in Christ, as members of his body, that we find freedom from sin, from guilt, from punishment, from death. Therefore, our freedom in Christ can be described as being possessed by Christ. We belong to him with all that we own. Such dependence is not a burden. It is not bondage. It is freedom to become what we were created to be—the good and happy children of God. Such freedom we possess in this life is under stress, struggle, and temptation. But in the kingdom of God, one day, we shall be completely in possession of “the glorious liberty of the sons of God” (Rom 8:21).

We should know and keep the rule, which Christ himself gives and proves in today’s Gospel. All laws, both human and divine, which treat outward works are no further binding than charity extends. Love is the exposition of all laws. Where love is wanting, all is vain, and the law is instead harmful, even if it is true. The reason is that all laws are given so that they may establish love. As we learned this week in our memory verse, “For the commandments… are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).

With all that in mind, we can rightly understand the Third Commandment. The teaching concerning the Sabbath is first that we hear God’s word and live according to it. Hence, with the Christians, every day ought to be a Sabbath. Sunday and other days are set apart in love by Christians so that everybody may hear and learn God’s word and live according to it. But we could meet at different times and places, as love demands. We can, for the sake of faith, meet more often to build up both faith toward God and love for one another. Love demands that God’s Word be preached and taught so that others may hear for their joy and edification. 

In today’s Gospel, we see that intelligent, clever, and wise people will use God’s Law to misinform consciences and move far astray as to despise God’s word. Since in the Old Testament, the law was neither understood nor moderated according to love, God gave the people prophets who should explain the law not according to its strictness but according to charity. When you serve your neighbor and help him, you have kept the Sabbath right and well, even though you have done work on it, because you did a divine work. First, hear God’s Word in faith, and then His Spirit will work love in you for your neighbor. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin