Developing Divine Disposition
This story reads like a James Bond movie where a wealthy villain invites Bond to a dinner party to observe him closely, to find out what he is capable of, and possibly find an opportunity to eliminate him. However, Bond turns the table around and use it as an opportunity to observe the host closely, figure out his evil motives, and spy on his secret schemes to obtain the power to control or destroy the world.
As the story goes, Jesus was invited by a leader of the Pharisees for dinner on the sabbath, and it says, “They were watching him closely.” Pharisees were the ruling class of the community and the gatekeepers of the religion. Jesus was a new kid in town, but he was gaining a lot of followers with his fresh teachings and bold miracles. Jesus fame had become a threat to the political and religious elites.
Therefore, they invited him to the dinner not to befriend him but to observe him and to find fault on this troublemaker so that they might defame and eliminate him. Since Jesus had many followers by now, they couldn’t just destroy him publicly without proving him to be a false teacher.
The irony is they are in tern observed by Jesus. Jesus knew he was being watched, but he used the opportunity to teach them some lessons.
“Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.” (v.2) The Bible didn’t say why this man was at this dinner party. It could have been a trap set up by the Pharisees because rumor had it that Jesus didn’t observe the Mosaic laws. If they could prove him to be so, then they could get him arrested and punished for teaching a heresy.
According to the law, they are not supposed to work on the sabbath. So, they might have planted this man to appear in front of Jesus and see what he would do. Jesus took the bait and turn it into an opportunity to challenge these religious leaders.
He asked, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. If they didn’t plant this man in front of Jesus, they would have said “no” immediately because that was their interpretation of the law.
They put Jesus to the test, but Jesus turned around and put them to the test by asking this question. Their silence could also mean that they are unsure of what the law allows and what not. Jesus question might have kept them thinking: which is important, keeping the sabbath holy by not working or by loving your neighbor as yourself?
Since they were silent, Jesus up the level of challenge. He could have got himself arrested by violating the law, but being the Lord of the law, he put the Pharisees to the test. He healed the man with dropsy right there and sent him away. By this he game them an opportunity to arrest him. Since everyone is silent, he turned this to a teaching moment.
He said, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” (v. 5). They were not able to answer his question because they observed the law religiously not relationally. They didn’t understand the mind of God and purpose behind the laws. They followed the religious rituals but never developed a divine disposition.
At this moment, the state of Israel is under the Roman occupation. King Herod and the ruling class were corrupt puppets of the Roman Empire. However, these are not important at all. If you read the Old Testament and study the context of the entire Bible, you would find that the country being enslaved by a foreign country is not important, being invaded is not important, being exiled is not important, and being occupied is not important. What’s important is the hearts of the people being away from God.
At this moment in time, these Pharisees and religious leaders were Israel’s only hope to recover from the foreign occupation, but they are all corrupt from top down. Look at the Old Testament stories of foreign occupation and exiles, the restoration of the nation starts with the restoration of faith.
So, Jesus was pushing the reformation of faith because without it they would never be free. Freedom comes from having the habits of the free. The reason America has been the land of the free is because the majority have the disposition of the free.
These Pharisees had a bad disposition, and that why they couldn’t lead the country out of occupation and slavery. They must reinterpret the law and restore their divine habits. That’s what religious reformation is about.
The next verse says, “When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.” (v.7). Even though Jesus was invited to the dinner to be watched closely, he ended up watching them and he noticed their unhealthy habits, or undivine disposition. The guests rushed to the dinner table and picked the VIP seats so that they could appear important in the crowd. This trigger Jesus’ moment of teaching.
Recently, I became fascinated with the science of human habits. I’ve learned that the way you do one thing reveals the way you do most everything. If you like to take the place of honor at a dinner party, you would likely do similar things with your finance, works, and living. You would chase after vanity. You would buy things to show off. You would dress to impress.
Jesus said when you are invited to a wedding party, sit down at the lowest place, and let the host move you up to the right place. He then said, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This is a divine disposition. The Bible says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” (Php 2:8–9). Being humble is a divine habit, or a divine disposition.
Next, Jesus taught another divine habit. That’s hospitality to the disadvantaged. He said that your party guest should include “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (vv. 13-14).
According to the context of the gospels, Jesus never wanted us to follow these rules ritually or religiously. He didn’t want us to pick the lowest seat and invite the poor “because he said so.” He wanted us to do it naturally and habitually. Intentional humility is not genuine humility. We should be humble and hospitable by disposition.
When those guests picked the place of honor, they did it habitually and according to their disposition. A habit is what you do without thinking. Whether it is a good habit or bad habit, you do it without thinking. Jesus wanted them to reform their habits before they can reform their country.
Through this passage, Jesus wants you and me to reform the divine habits or develop the divine disposition before we can reform the community and the country.
How do you cultivate new healthy habits and get rid of the old unhealthy ones that led you to where you are now? I have learned a secret to change habits. Without this secret, you will be swimming upstream, the moment you stop striving, you flow back downstream to the old habits.
The secret is to change the identity. For example, there are two smokers who try to quit. Someone offered them a cigarette. The first person says, “No, thank you. I quit smoking.” The second person says, “No, thank you. I’m not a smoker.” Who do you think will eventually quit successfully? The first person maintains his identity as a smoker. The second person no longer have the identity of a smoker because the first one says, “I quit smoking,” the second one says, “I am not a smoker.” So, the first person is likely to regress because one’s habit is tied to his or her identity.
Jesus saw that the world is going to hell in a handbasket because we have taken a wrong identity, which the Bible calls “sin.” He came to restore our identity as the children of God. He stretched his hands on the cross telling us that God loves us so much, and that we are worth dying for. We could do better than what we are doing right now. We deserve better once we have the new identity.
The Bible says, “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9-10 NLT).
This new identity is like a divine seed sowed into your heart. If you let it take root and grow, it will bear the fruit of the divine disposition and habits known as the fruit of the spirit. These will become our new habits which will bring freedom and felicity to our life, family, community, and country.
Let’s close by reading together aloud our new identity by changing “you” to we.
“We are a chosen people. We are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, we can show others the goodness of God, for he called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once we had no identity as a people; now we are God’s people. Once we received no mercy; now we have received God’s mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9-10 NLT).
Until we meet again, let’s keep cultivating a fruitful life. May God bless you. Amen!