Luke 14.1-6

10 September 2019

These six verses from Luke’s account of the Gospel tell us a lot about issues in the early church community, perhaps 40 years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact I would go so far as to say that these verses tell us more about that early church community than they do the context and contemporaries of Jesus.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jesus ate with Pharisees, after all the Pharisees and Jesus had more in common than our prejudice against the Pharisees allow us to believe. Nor do I doubt that discussions would have often taken place between Jesus and the Pharisees on the Law and interpretations of it. But by the time the compiler came to present the account of the Gospel we know as Luke, relationships between the early Church and Pharisaic communities had broken down.  Sometime before the Gospel account was written down the Temple had fallen, in 70 CE, and only these two Jewish groups thereafter remained viable; as a consequence the early church and the Pharisaic communities became rivals and competed for the hearts and minds of the people. Hence the somewhat accentuated hostility recorded in these later Gospel accounts.

Therefore this hostility we read of, in both Luke and Matthew especially, are more a reflection of that post-Temple period than those few years of Jesus’ ministry decades before.  For example, the debate over healing on the Sabbath, in this and other passages, was less of an issue at the time of Jesus than the Gospel accounts would have us believe. The sanctity of life and care for the sick have always been central to Jewish law and practise. And from the 2nd century before Christ it became pragmatic for Jews to heal on the Sabbath even though it was prohibited by Torah Law.  This was because 1000 Jews had been massacred having refused to take up arms to defend themselves when they came under attack from Macedonians on the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath Law was more important than defending the city. Thereafter it was agreed that there should be greater flexibility in the interpretation and observance.

Now I know this is a challenge to the preconceptions of many Christians, likewise the fact that much of the teaching on the Sabbath that has been attributed to Jesus is actually part of the debate between Rabbis Eleazar and Akiva, however what is important is not who said what, when and where, but the fact that healing is an integral part of our being: the desire to make whole, to restore and to save.  This is our Judeo-Christian heritage and it is our calling today: to make whole, to restore and save souls, heal hearts, bodies and minds.

The Psalmists and Prophets believed that God healed the broken hearted and bound their wounds. The followers of Jesus came to believe that Jesus was anointed to do the same and that his Spirit enabled them to continue such a ministry. That which had been the work of God is now the ministry of believers.

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