The text as I read it has two clear parts. There is the introductory part which is the crucible around the man with dropsy. This part to me carries the full gospel – Jesus embraces sinners, heals us and releases us in peace. The second part is the parable or the parables. But these stories are not the cute little tales of fathers and sons or sheep and shepherds. These parables are less invitations to understand the goodness of the Father and are more warnings or wisdom sayings. (Hence the OT reading being from Proverbs.) They invite us not to ponder who God is, because Jesus has already demonstrated that clearly and completely in his action. Instead they invite us to consider how do we live having seen the revelation?
The world seat people, chooses honors and awards, in a certain order by its rules. Jesus knows this and gives that order the side eye. The warning is that we should know this as well. How the Father honors is different. How eternity with order itself is different. And if we are made for eternity, we should be acting that way today. As another parable puts it we should be using today’s mammon to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. If we eat up all our providence today, claiming the great seats now, when that day comes the shame will be known to all.
There is one big difference between the world say pre-1750 and post-1750. Now that date is rough and the change not uniformly distributed, but what I’m really pointing out is a change with the Enlightenment. A pre-enlightenment mindset could look at events in the world or things right in front of you and see a larger sign. Another way you might describe this is that the universe as enchanted. You could swing to extremes, like the purchase of amulets and other charms to ward off all the things that go bump in the night. And all that stuff is actually what the bible comes down harshly on – see Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:17-20) or see the story of Saul (1 Samuel 28:3ff) or look at the law (Lev 20:27, Deu 18:1-12) where the practice of such things is placed alongside child sacrifice. But there is a different form of enchantment that was thrown out with that superstition. The bible would just call it having ears to hear, or eyes to see. Jesus would complain that his contemporaries could read the signs of upcoming weather, but they couldn’t read the important signs right in front of their noses (Luke 13:54-56).
That is what is happening in the text of Luke across these chapters and our text is another example. The man’s illness, dropsy, is a sign. The Pharisees are intending it as one sign, but Jesus is reading it rightly. This is a great example of the prophetic office. The prophet could tell the future but what the prophets of Israel really did was read the signs for the people. Jesus tells then parables that illuminate the real purpose of the sign.
What the reading of the sign, the observation of an enchanted universe, is really about is a call to examination of personal conscience. Where have I fallen short? How is God calling me back to the path? Because the grace and mercy of God, the invitation to he feast, goes out to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Jesus eats with sinners. The means of grace are for those who need it. If you don’t need the healing (or more truthfully don’t think you need healing) they are not for you. What this sermon attempts to do is read some signs…and then issue an invitation.