She was in her senior year of high school when she got pregnant. The fear came over her like a slow wave. It started when she realized she was late but soon swept her off her feet after a test purchased at 7-Eleven left her panic stricken. All her dreams were suddenly turned on their head. All her plans seemed to be jeopardized. What should she do? What could she do? The few friends she felt comfortable enough telling in confidence urged her toward termination but deep down she did not feel like she could go through with it. She knew she could not do it. She had been steeped in the teaching that all life is sacred, and this life deserved a chance. She participated in church. Her parents were faithful members. She had been part of Sunday School, then the youth group, and on any given Sunday could be found kneeling at the rail receiving the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all her sins. She could not hide it, not for long. So, she decided to come clean, to confess what had happened, first to her parents and then with them to her pastor.
At home there were a lot of tears, a lot of silence, and some yelling. Is premarital sex wrong? Yes. Is it sinful? Yes. Can it be hidden? Not anymore, not in her case. In the pastor’s office, there was no yelling. Rather, the whole issue was met with almost a prescribed routine for such situations. Certainly, she was not the first scared young girl sitting with her parents there, and she would not be the last. He had heard it all before and there was a system they regularly employed. She was to refrain from receiving the Lord’s Supper. She was also not to participate with the rest of the youth group throughout her senior year. In many ways, she was treated as if she was contagious, separated out in her sin and shame. This pregnancy would not be celebrated by her church. What she had needed more than anything else, what she longed for in her fear and uncertainty was compassion. She desired compassion from the one place she had hoped she could get it, but it was not to be.
That is a wound which is not easily overcome. When the place of forgiveness and welcome becomes a place of shunning and distance, it can and often does drive one from the fellowship of God’s people for good. And this response is common. After all, there are rules and there are guidelines we know we ought to follow. We want to make an example of those who cast aside the guidelines. We want to prevent such things in the future. We want to make a stand. After all, to have compassion is not easy or natural. To forgive and provide comfort to terrified hearts in such a moment is not our desire. There must be repentance. This is what we want; real, demonstrative repentance which is as public as the sin itself has become. We want to please our God and we are convinced this is the best way.
Luke chapter 14 begins with Jesus in a place and time that is perfectly situated for pleasing God. We are told it was the Sabbath, the day set aside by God for resting in His promises, His gifts. It was a day of worship in a way not much different from our focus in church on a Sunday morning. And on this Sabbath, He was in the home of a Pharisee. He was dining with someone who diligently sought to keep the commands of God. We tend to always view the Pharisees with a certain displeasure, we see them as the “bad guys” in the Gospel narrative. But to the people of our Lord’s day, these were the righteous. They were at least trying to be faithful, trying to keep the commands of God. They focused on practicing what they preached. And not only was our Lord in the home of a Pharisee but this was a ruler of the Pharisees. In his home were invited teachers of the Law, experts in the commands of God. If there was ever a place and time to please God, this would be it. Truly, God would be glorified here.
But then the whole scene is shaken. We are suddenly surprised to find there is a man there who has dropsy. You might know dropsy by its more modern name of “edema.” It is a painful swelling of the joints. It is not a life-or-death sort of a situation, but no doubt for the one suffering from it, it is a constant struggle and trial. Our Lord looks at these experts in the Law and asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” There were rules in place, rules about what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath, and surely this could have waited until another day. The Pharisees and teachers in the Law waited to see. They do not say anything. They just watch. Would Jesus continue to please God or would He heal this man and break the rules. Would He rest or act? Of course, we know what He does. In fact, at this point we would not expect Him to do anything less. He heals. He has compassion. It is a compassion which is not shaped by our laws, rules, and systems for honoring God but by the action of God to our wounds, fears, and suffering.
Jesus then asks, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” You know the rules. You know what is right and wrong to do on the Sabbath but if your son fell into a well you would not hesitate to get to work, to act, to do what was required to save him. In fact, that would be the right thing to do. Saving your child would be the God pleasing thing to do, to save one who cannot save themselves. The compassion of our Lord reorders things. He comes to bear the sins of the world, to open the prison doors of sin and death, to secure salvation for the lost and broken sinner. He does not wait for us to get in line, to perfect our system of obedience. He acts. He works. He has compassion.
From here Jesus examines this reordering of our rules and living. He challenges us to not be guided by simply what is just or right but by what allows for humility and is fueled by compassion. He says when you are invited to a wedding feast do not assume you can take for yourself the seat of honor. You may find you will be asked to move down lower and so be publicly humiliated. Rather, be humble. Take the lower seat. Do not be so concerned with what you are due. He says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then our Lord tells the one who invited Him that he should have invited those who could not repay him. He says, “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” He should have led with compassion in his actions.
You see, the problem here is not one of ignorance. The issue in our Lord’s day is not much different from the issues we face. We know the law. We know what is right and wrong. We know what it means to follow the precepts of God and to strive for obedience. And we know full well what it is to fall short of the glory of God. We know what it is to sin so thoroughly that it entwines everything we do. We sin in our thoughts, we sin with our words, and we sin by our actions. We know we sin by the things we do and by the things we will not do. And we have gotten surprisingly good at hiding these sins away from one another. We know what is wrong and we are ashamed. But when the sin bubbles out, when it is no longer hidden away, then we jump to judgment, we jump to the demand of repentance, we jump to our systems, rules, and codes of conduct to preserve our righteousness.
And in so doing, we wound and tear at the children of God. We leave them alone in the fear and uncertainty which accompanies their shame. In our quest to be right, we leave our child in the bottom of the well. But today our Lord Jesus calls us to something more. He directs us toward His action, toward His compassion. His compassion is the Word and promise of forgiveness, and His forgiveness is inclusion in the gifts of God, inclusion in the glories of eternal life. Let us make our stand here, in the Gospel, in the compassion of God, and in that word of love and welcome for sinners such as us.