The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


The Rudeness of God

If Jesus can heal people why does he do it so randomly? Why not heal everyone?

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7–14

For Sunday, August 29, 2010: Year C - Ordinary 22

Here are three pericopes, connected loosely by the theme of eating: a healing, a parable and an apocalypse. But is there some progression here, some interdependence, even some awkward omission? Like, why does the Revised Common Lectionary not include those five missing verses (2-6)?

There is one thing that seems to run through this week’s Gospel reading: Jesus’ rudeness. Maybe combativeness is a better way to put it. Maybe we’re too embarrassed by Jesus’ manners, but Luke 14:2-6, sets this whole thing up. Jesus is walking with his host and the other guests on the way to the meal.

What are you thinking?

I don’t know if they were walking in silence before Jesus speaks up or they were making polite conversation, but then Jesus sees the man with dropsy and he turns to his companions and challenges them. He knows their position on the subject. It has come up before. Pointing to the man, he asks if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and they say nothing. Jesus heals him and sends him on the way and then schools/insults them, “Wouldn’t you pull your child or your ox out of a well on the Sabbath?” They again say nothing. What are they thinking? Has he bested them, or are they just unsure about this guy?

Then they arrive for the meal. The other guests seem to be taking their places, but Jesus stands apart watching them, then shaking his head he says, “See that is the problem with you people, choosing the best spots.” Paraphrasing Proverbs 25:6-7, he says, “Don’t you know you are going to humiliate your selves? I’ll tell you what to do. Take the worst spots, then the host asks you to move up, and bingo—everyone there will honor you!” Again the others say nothing. What are they thinking?

After he is done insulting the guests he turns on the host. “And you know what your problem is? You invite people just so you will be honored, paid back. What are you thinking inviting your friends and relatives to eat with you, you should invite the poor, the crippled, and people that can never pay you back. Do that and you’ll get paid back — when you die!” The host says nothing. What is he thinking?

How not to humiliate yourself.

What is the point of all this? The first part is about hypocritical adherence to the law; the second part is some helpful advice on how not to humiliate yourself at a dinner party, and how to instead bring honor to yourself; and the third part is about how you should never bring honor to yourself. Instead bring shame on your self by inviting unclean guests. What sets Jesus off? Is it their suspicion of him? The reading opens with, “They were watching him closely.” Why do they say nothing? Are they being polite?

And amidst all of the Emily Post advice, Jesus heals the man with dropsy. It’s an almost random healing, related in an offhanded fashion by our erstwhile Gospel writer. And I want to ask Luke, “What gives? Who’s this guy with dropsy, and why did Jesus heal him?” Some details would be nice. But we get none, leading me to ask…

The Hardest Question

If Jesus can heal people why does he do it so randomly? Why not heal everyone?

Russell RathbunRussell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Thanks for your insightful questions. To me, the answer is inspired by John 5:19, “[the Son] can only do what He sees his Father doing.” Oswald Chambers (in a devotion that I can’t find at the moment) riffs on this when he talks about calling and obedience, and the danger of making one’s call simply a response to worldly need. Using this paradigm, not only is there no need for God in the equation (i.e., even non-Christians can observe need and suffering in the world and respond to it), but there is no way that one person can adequately respond to the need. The mercy of God’s call, and the virtue of obedience, is that we are not immediately overwhelmed (and very quickly destroyed) by the need that exists in the world; rather, a life of obedience means that 1) we serve where God leads us, 2) God’s grace will sustain us in our obedience and – perhaps most telling – 3) we can be assured that our responses will not be shaped simply by our personal preferences. I.e., when faced with more need than one can respond to, one who is intent upon ministering to that need will, by necessity, end up exercising choice and personal preference in determining where and whom she or he will serve. Through His obedience, Jesus ministered according to God’s choosing, thereby serving as an instrument in God’s hands among people where God may well have already begun to move, and for whom Christ’s ministry was but a part of God’s larger design. In this respect, Jesus’ healings are not “random” at all (although they may seem so to us), but simply instances of obedience to God’s leading.

  2. Mark Edwards says:


    I like this angle – it brings extra light onto our tendency to always examine and explain things according to our limited vision and understanding of how “the world” works. It also may serve as balm when questioning why some for whom we pray are healed and others aren’t (or are they healed differently?).

  3. Timothy says:

    Yes, why does Jesus not heal everyone?

    I can appreciate the random, personal preference, being obedient aspect of healing others. Human beings are limited. God, we often confess, is not. So why does the God revealed in Jesus not heal everyone?

    That is a hard question, Russell!

  4. William Robertson says:

    No doubt you have identified a very hard question, for this passage, and everywhere else, of when and why healings take place. Allow me to suggest, however, that the rest of the passage is not, in fact, “advice,” at least not of the good manners variety. Jesus, virtually without exception, does not give advice, and it is no accident that Luke says “parable” in v. 7, however eager some among us who are in recovery from form-criticism may be tempted to state that Luke is simply mistaken in saying such. Jesus observes the dinner guests much as he might observe, say, a mustard plant or any other interesting real-world phenomenon, and what may begin as Proverbs-based advice is transformed into a critique of any sort of social ordering based on wealth, privilege, reputation, etc. The follower of Jesus, (as the Girardians would suggest), takes the lowest place not out of self-abnegation, and not in a cagey avoidance of later humiliation, (which would be a most uncharacteristically mundane warning for Jesus to give), but because there is no conflict for that spot, and the work of the Kingdom is more likely to be happening there. Then vv. 12ff. are the “go and do likewise” for those who may happen to be facilitators or preservers of the forms of order. The positive Gospel angle in all this will be the freedom and blessing for the person who gives up the old pecking order and finds self-definition according to the knowledge of having a favored place at the table at which the Lord is host.

  5. Ian says:

    Don’t go to bars. You might save a drunk. Don’t wait to be promoted. Shove your way forward. God helps those who help themselves – to the best seats. I love how Jesus messes with our heads and makes us rethink things. Our Christianity is messed up. Maybe if we return to his, we’ll learn something. Hmmm!

  6. David says:

    Luther’s caveat to the sovereignty of God is the right of refusal. Rather than living in a world in which everything – including healings – falls lock step into God’s will, there’s a chorus of “No way, God!” that emanates from creation, ever-threatening to drown out the praise. From the moment a bit of DNA mutates to the moment we chose the best seat, that refusal to follow “the plan” feels evident. The really amazing thing to me is that God keeps saying “Yes” in Christ(2 Corinthians 1:17ff).

How do you read?