Jesus was always on the lookout for people who needed healing. The ones we hear about in the Gospel stories, like the one we just heard today, were needs for physical healing, sure, but the stories also tell us about the need for spiritual healing. Sometimes our bodies are sick, but sometimes our souls are sick too.
The man in today’s Gospel reading had what they called dropsy. I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up. Basically, it’s a build-up of fluid in some part of the body, very often a limb like a leg, or even in the foot or ankle, or hand. Today, we might call that edema, and usually it is caused by some other disease, like congestive heart failure. Usually people with this condition have trouble moving around or really doing anything in their everyday life, so I’m sure the man in the Gospel story was very happy to be rid of it.
All this happened at a dinner in the home of one of the leading Pharisees. The Pharisees were a faction of religious leaders at that time. They were all observing Jesus carefully, and we now know they were doing that so that they might have some reason to discredit him and ignore his teaching, and even to get rid of him. Eventually, their suspicion of him brought Jesus to the cross. Maybe we wonder why they were like that: well, it could have been jealousy. Or maybe they just felt threatened. Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.
You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life. But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done. People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way. That had to make them green with envy. And, yes, they probably felt threatened. The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve. And Jesus was successful while they were not: people were being healed, they hung on his teaching, and followed him wherever he went.
But how had those Pharisees lost the way? Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different or surprising message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love. That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow for them, the laws and rules became more important than the love.
The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long. Jesus wanted to help people to experience God’s love, forgiveness of their sins, and true healing – healing from the inside out. It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by the rules. That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross. He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live. Thanks be to God!