So many of you have prayed for and asked about my Mom and her wellbeing, and
we both appreciate your concern.
I saw her Monday, and she’s doing okay, certainly better than she was a few months ago.
This past spring she went to the hospital with painful swelling in her feet and legs
that made her feel like her skin was on fire.
So much fluid was drained from her body that she lost more than ten pounds in the
Seeing the lack of circulation, doctors were concerned about her heart, and they put her
on an unpleasant diet for a while.
Now she is moving more freely, walking better, and, while her feet are still swollen, they
are not nearly as bloated.
Saint Luke, the physician who wrote today’s gospel, would likely say that she is
recovering from dropsy.
You may have noticed that the gospel reading also seems to have lost weight.
What happened to verses two through six?
They contain the story of Jesus healing a man with dropsy and then challenging the party
goers with the question, Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?
The committee that prepared the lectionary likely thought, “that’s unnecessary, because
it’s basically the same story as last week.”
Actually, it’s the same story as this week.
What Jesus is doing at dinner is healing social dropsy.
The Greek historian Polybius sheds light on this:
…as in the case of a dropsy the thirst of the sufferer never ceases and is never allayed by the administration of liquids from without, unless we cure the morbid condition of the body itself, so it is impossible to satiate the greed for gain, unless we correct by reasoning the vice inherent in the soul.
In Doctor Luke’s day, dropsy—retaining too much water—was a symbol of greed.
What Jesus is doing at dinner is healing social dropsy.
Mom’s recent experiences shed fresh light for me on the disease of greed.
Someone who suffers from greed takes on and retains too much, restricting their
movement and freedom.
Terrible, constant pain results from skins being stretched too far and too thin.
Circulation gets clogged up; life cannot flow through a greed-stricken heart.
It is harder to receive and to give blessings when greed turns people into the 405 at rush
hour and then keeps shouting, “we need more traffic!”
More stuff, more cars, more fluid in the system, more, more, more!
The dropsy patient bloated with too much water can’t stop drinking more water
because the thirst won’t go away.
We medicate greed by adding more of the problem, which increases the pain, which
ramps up the dosage because surely the next thing, the next hit, the next drink, the next raise, the next promotion, the next house, the next level will finally be the one to make me happy.
And maybe it does, for a fleeting moment … and then we want more, and advertising
surrounds us with reminders lest we lapse, God forbid, into contentment.
Greed goes viral.
So Jesus is not just curing one dude’s dropsy; he is signalling his intent to heal the whole room of greed.
This is indeed same story, different Sunday.
A few weeks ago, responding to an inheritance dispute, Jesus warned the crowds:
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.
Financial greed is only one of many forms, though it is a powerful and enduring one.
Nowadays nothing but money counts: fortune brings honors, friendships; the poor man everywhere lies low, the poet laments—that poet being Ovid two thousand years ago, after a line about he whose belly swells with dropsy.
This week’s gospel guest list suffers from social greed, a thirst for status and position.
Others of us suffer greed for power, for popularity, for pleasure, for reputation, for likes, for image, for victory, for revenge, for being right, for any number of desires deformed into addictions and insatiable thirsts.
One of my forms of greed is perfectionism.
In school, no test or sports season or report card was ever good enough.
In ministry, there is always a voice in my head insisting that no ministry or service
project or sermon is ever good enough, that contentment is laziness and a
relentless, graceless desire to do better and be better is necessary for excellence, which can always be improved upon.
Perfectionism is greed, and greed is idolatry, except that I would not be content being
God, I want to do better than that.
I have to do better than that, or else I won’t have enough value as a person to deserve
Perfectionism is not only a sin, it’s a disease.
As much as God has repeatedly humbled me over time to begin to heal me—I am no longer planning suicide or denying myself privileges for coming home with an embarrassing A instead of the A+ I would have earned if I had just applied myself and worked harder and cared more—I still sometimes become both guilty and sick with the same egocentric dropsy.
What makes you suffer?
There’s a good chance it can be traced to a form of greed, and Jesus wants to heal you.
Like most diseases, the medicine feels worse than the pain.
Doctor Jesus heals with humility.
Take the lower place, the lower salary, the lower status.
Feed those who cannot repay you.
Bless those who will not thank or appreciate you.
Kneel before your inferiors and wash their smelly feet like the Lord does.
Drain the buildup from your ego that’s clogging your flow and threatening your heart.
Give until you have room enough to receive, and humbly receive until you have
something worth giving.
Keep the traffic of blessing moving through you and around you.
Get over yourself and get beyond yourself by extending God’s kindness and
generosity to others without calculating whether they deserve it.
They don’t, and neither do you.
Grace does not settle for greed’s sad payback business.
Doctor Jesus wants you to be much healthier and happier than that.