1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
The religious people are watching, too. Watching Jesus closely. Only they aren’t trying to see into the heart of Jesus or the truth of the moment – they are waiting for him to fail, waiting for him to show some ignorance or violation of the commands of God. They are watching, sifting every glance for evidence that they themselves are the men of God and Jesus the ignorant interloper and fraud.
Jesus does not disappoint. The verses we skip in the reading this Sunday set the scene for the banquet that follows: on the Sabbath Jesus heals a man with the swollen limbs of a terrible edema.
As with the crippled woman we read a few Sundays ago, this is not emergency medicine; it is a medical treatment that could have waited a day. The religious people get what they want, the excuse they need: “He is no prophet. He is no rabbi. No teacher of Israel would be so ignorant of God’s law.”
But there is another question that lingers in the wake of Jesus’ healing: “Would a teacher of Israel not know God’s will to save? Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Joshua. Gideon. David. What happens in all these stories? Should not a leader among God’s people know God’s will to save?”
We see what we want to see: Jesus the country healer ignorant of the law or Jesus the prophet who recovers the law’s true meaning; Jesus the threat to public order or Jesus the hope of Israel and the world.
They were watching, and they saw what they wanted to see. But Jesus was watching, too. He doesn’t walk away. He tries to take them on a journey into the heart of God whose honored guests are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
The words of Jesus continue to speak. They illumine the whole of scripture that it, too, might call us into the journey from the lost garden to the New Jerusalem, from the world of sweat and tears to the world of grace and life, from the scrabble for worldly honor to the banquet that welcomes the poor, the outcast, the stranger, from the realm of power and its many forms of violence to the realm where all our violence is absorbed into the body of God.
Those who considered themselves righteous were watching Jesus to have their suspicions confirmed. But Jesus was watching them to diagnose the soul.
He does not shrink back from the prescription. To see the kingdom of God you must see “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” feasting at the places of honor at the table of God. To see the kingdom of God you must join the banquet. Jesus suggests his examiners start at the lowest place. It is wise advice for us all. Difficult, but wise.