What does our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees give us to consider regarding relations with a world hostile to Jesus Christ? Consider first of all that we should beware the hypocritical love from those outside of Christ. The Pharisees invited Jesus to eat bread with them. Yet they also watched Him closely. They were looking for something to accuse Him of so they could get rid of Him. Jesus, however, perceived their shenanigans and showed true prudence in all His words and works.
It’s as if the Pharisees and experts in the Law had planned everything perfectly. A man who was suffering from swelling of the body was right in front of our Lord. Jesus asked them one question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? No answer. All eyes are on Him. So He took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.
People of the world also invite us to eat bread with them, so to speak. They do so not out of love, but out of spite. They, too, look for opportunities to trap us and bring us down. They, too, look to prove our hope for eternal life and forgiveness of sins to be a farce. Everything in the world will pass away, even their false opinions about salvation.
This doesn’t mean we walk away from the world and retreat to some sort of monastic way of life. We instead walk in love over against the world. Jesus never voluntarily withdrew from the Pharisees. He seized the opportunity to draw closer to them. He accepted their invitation to eat bread with them. Jesus sought to draw the Pharisees and experts in the Law closer to Him. Sometimes it took harsh words. Sometimes it took a parable. Sometimes it took a miracle. He left the matter in their lap to deal with His words and actions. They knew what He said and did was true. They saw everything as an inconvenient truth.
We, too, seize every opportunity to engage the world with the Truth of Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ has taken care of sin and death in His perfect life, His all-atoning death, and His life-giving resurrection from the dead. Over the last couple of years, however, it seems as if some Christians would rather pick up their marbles and only play among other like-minded Christians. Some well-known Christians have written that it’s hopeless to deal with those whose minds are set on the world. So let’s just deal with those who are like-minded with us and leave the world alone.
That’s not the way Jesus dealt with sinners. Jesus dwells among sinners. He doesn’t exclusively talk to His disciples. He eats with tax collectors instead of shooing them away. He has compassion on harlots and even Samaritans. As our Lord Christ put Himself in the midst of sinners, so we also are in the midst of sinful people, both within and without the Christian faith. We deal with others in love, not in hate. We show concern in word and deed instead of turning our backs on “those people out there”. Always, always, we show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus in order that they may join us in the great feast of the Gospel.
We are also fearless over against the enemies of the Truth. Christians have shown a lot of fear before the world over the last couple of years. Ever since the Supreme Court gave homosexual couples the right to marry, Christians have looked more like fear mongerers than fearless disciples of Jesus Christ. Consider our Lord’s conduct in today’s Holy Gospel. He does not avoid provocation, but fearlessly responds by healing the man and teaching the Pharisees and experts in the Law what the Sabbath is really about.
We Christians look intimidated these days against the world. It seems as if there can be no middle ground when it comes to hot-button topics. Instead of listening to our neighbor, we quickly react against them in order to be right. The shoe often is on the other foot, too. Saint Peter has good advice on how to deal with our neighbor: in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
The key words there are gentleness and respect. You win few people over with venom. You win a willing ear with gentleness and respect. You also win the respect of others not merely by speaking the Truth, but also living the Truth. Jesus shows His adversaries the true meaning of the Sabbath by healing a man. The Sabbath is not so much about strict rest as it is about attending to the Word of God and prayer. If you must work to save a life, then do it. Refusing to act because it is the Sabbath harms both God and your neighbor.
Consider your conduct before your neighbor. Do you say and do everything with gentleness and respect? Or are you always looking to win a fight by any means necessary? Our conduct before the world is not about winning as it is about speaking the Truth in love without sacrificing either the Truth or love. That’s what Jesus is driving at with His audience by speaking the parable about places of honor at a banquet. Speaking truth with humility shows that Christ dwells among us and that we dwell in Christ. When we raise our voice to speak the Truth, we do so as representatives of Jesus Christ, not as a talking head spewing talking points on a cable TV talk show.
It’s not easy to live as a Christian these days. It’s never been easy to live as a Christian. Ever. There were never any “good old days” for Christians on earth. Yet when it is our place when we must and ought to speak, we pray that the Lord give us courage to speak in boldness and confidence, yet with tenderness and peace in our hearts and in our consciences. We aren’t in it to win it. We are in it to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and to win our neighbor from the devil’s clutches into the Lord’s merciful arms.
Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan. In Christ you have ultimate victory. Live in the world in peace. You will have many opportunities to speak about your hope in Jesus. Your hope is built on the solid rock of Christ. Don’t be afraid.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.