At some point in our lives, we have all experienced and/or witnessed meals that were expected to be delicious, but proved to be malicious. For any number of reasons, these meals digressed from ideal to ordeal. One of the most malicious meals I ever witnessed was when I was working in restaurant management.
The Hoedown Showdown
In my younger years, I was a member of management at Shoney’s restaurants. I had the opportunity to work at four of their Alabama locations—Bessemer, Forestdale, Hoover, and Midfield.
Traditionally, Shoney’s would run promotions in which they would offer featured meals for limited periods of time. One of those meals was the Hoedown Special, which was very popular with customers. The Hoedown Special consisted of a half-pound hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, and yellow corn.
The half-pound hamburger steak was a constant on Shoney’s menu; but not the mashed potatoes, brown gravy, and yellow corn. These items were only available when the Hoedown Special promotion was active. During that time, an insert for the Hoedown Special was added to the regular menu. When the promotion ended, the insert was supposed to be removed. Well, at least, that was the best case scenario.
When I was working at the Hoover Shoneys; one of the Hoedown Special inserts was, after the promotion ended, somehow still in a menu. Unfortunately, this particular menu fell into the hands of a difficult customer, a fortyish man, who saw the insert and insisted on ordering the Hoedown Special.
When his server tried to explain that the insert should have been pulled from the menu, the man did not want any excuses. He was dead-set on the Hoedown Special, and nothing was going to change his mind. He then proceeded to use some rather colorful language, which upset the server and prompted her to seek me out. Yes, I was fortunate enough to be manager-in-charge on that particular evening.
I walked up to the man’s table, and he was holding the big laminated menu—still open to the Hoedown Special insert. I said, “I understand we have a problem.” He held the menu out, pointed to the accursed insert, and said, “I want to order this Hoedown Special!” I politely replied, “Sir, as your server tried explaining to you, the Hoedown Special is no longer being offered. Can we help you with anything else?”
The man looked at me, squinted his eyes, frowned, and closed the menu—only to angrily whip it back open. “Let me try this again,” he said, “I want this Hoedown Special! I don’t want anything else!”
At this point, I am trying my best to maintain my composure and not lose my patience with this man, who is obviously trying his best to push my buttons. “Sir”, I said, “I am going to try to explain why it is impossible for you to order the Hoedown Special. This meal comes with a half-pound hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, and yellow corn. The mashed potatoes and brown gravy are prepared from mixes, and the yellow corn comes in cans. At present, we have the hamburger steak, but none of the other. Thus, you would be ordering a meal requiring items that we do not have in stock. You can order the hamburger steak with any of the side items on the regular menu. Do you understand?”
He looked at me, rudely pointed at the server, and said, “Like I told that b – – – – and I am now telling you, I want the Hoedown Special!” As a Christian gentleman who tolerates neither disrespect for a lady nor usage of profanity; I reached out and, in one swift move, snatched the menu from the man’s hand. Pointing the menu directly at him, I said, “We do not have the Hoedown Special! Now, I am going to ask you to leave!”
Whether due to my charm or the look in my eyes, the guy came to the sudden realization that it would be better for him to leave than push the issue further. After storming out of the restaurant; he sat in his car, which was parked within sight distance, for an hour. I telephoned and reported the incident to my supervisor—who instructed that I contact, at the first sign of trouble, the Hoover Police Department. Eventually, the man drove away.
Bullies are aggravations to which no one is exempt. Even Jesus, Himself, dealt with more than His fair share of bullies. Why should we think we would be any different?
VIP’s, Very Important Pharisees
Being a Pharisee was considered an honor, and they relished in their status. Pharisees draped themselves in elaborate robes to symbolize their importance and prayer shawls to symbolize their holiness and closeness to God. Pharisees wore small leather boxes, called phylacteries, strapped to their foreheads or wrists. Tucked inside the phylacteries, which were visible reminders of the Law, were Hebrew Scriptures written on pieces of parchment or vellum.
With their high religious standards, Pharisees would invoke senses of awe and fear in most people. Hence, Pharisees were typically given a very wide berth. Pharisees expected special treatment—because, well, they were Pharisees.
In charge of the synagogues, Pharisees took it upon themselves to teach the people the Word of God and the Law. Hailing, however, primarily from the middle class; most Pharisees were layman when it came to the Law. To acquire legal muscle, Pharisees started recruiting students of the Law, called scribes, into the synagogues. Scribes not only taught Pharisees the Law, but also wrote addendum laws to the existing laws—making them much more difficult for the average person to understand and obey.
Pharisees wanted to protect the Word of God, and they loved the Law. However, their efforts gradually transformed laws into clubs, which were used to beat down and oppress God’s people.
A Sabbath Set-Up
Luke 14:1-2 (King James Version)
1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.
2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.
In an unnamed town; Jesus was invited, on the Sabbath, to a certain house for lunch. The owner of the house and host of the meal was one of the chief Pharisees. Most likely, Jesus and the Pharisee would have attended morning services at the synagogue.
Jesus, the Pharisee, and other invited guests—many of whom would have been Pharisees—were now on their way to his house to have lunch. Bread, which would have been prepared the previous day, would be their mainstay. Jewish Law forbade working on the Sabbath, and cooking was considered to be work.
When Jesus arrived and walked through the doorway; He immediately encountered a man, afflicted with dropsy, strategically positioned directly in the path of travel. Indications were that the sick man’s presence was a set-up—a trap intended to put Jesus on the spot. All the Pharisees anxiously watched to see how Jesus would react.
Dropsy, the disease with which this man suffered, had nothing to do with clumsiness and incapability to hold onto objects.
Dropsy is derived from the Greek adjective, hudropikos, which translates to: As if looking watery
Dropsy is a form of edema or swelling caused by water retention. The primary causes of dropsy are heart failure, liver failure, and/or alcoholism. The obvious signs of dropsy are swelling in the stomach and/or extremities of the body.
At the time Jesus encountered the dropsical man, the common belief was that swelling of the stomach was the byproduct of sexual sins. Thus, this man would have been unfairly labeled as a vile, unclean sinner—unwelcome and totally out of his element in the house of a holier-than-thou Pharisee.
Bible scholars agree that, apart from setting a trap for Jesus, there was really no logical reason for the dropsical man to have been at the Pharisee’s house. The Pharisee was banking that Jesus’ compassion for the sick and His willingness, even on the Sabbath day, to heal them would be His undoings. The Pharisee had carefully arranged to have in place a houseful of guests to witness Jesus in action should He dare to work, by healing the dropsical man, on the Sabbath.
Luke 14:3-6 (King James Version)
3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?
4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go;
5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?
6 And they could not answer him again to these things.
Seeing the sick, bloated man; Jesus asked the Pharisees—but mainly the scribes, the legal eagles—if it was against the Law to heal on the Sabbath. The scribes said nothing, and the Pharisees would not answer. According to their interpretation of the Law, Jesus knew their unspoken answer was a definite yes.
Jesus took the man and healed him.
In the original translation; the Greek verb, epilombano, translates to: Seizing or grabbing
Jesus, as if to literally squeeze the fluid from the man’s body, seized him and healed him. Then, Jesus released his hold on the man and sent him on his way. As there is no indication that the man stayed for the meal, it solidifies the fact that the sole purpose of his presence was not as a guest, but bait.
Jesus now takes advantage of a golden opportunity to give his spectators some food for thought. Turning toward them and addressing them, Jesus asks if any among them would refuse, on the Sabbath, to pull his ox or ass out of a pit into which the beast had fallen.
Speculation is that the pit Jesus referenced was a cistern, an open well, that contained water. Were this the case, the ox or ass would have required immediate rescue to prevent drowning.
Jesus knew Pharisees would not simply stand by and let their oxes or asses perish on the Sabbath or any other day of the week. Pharisees were lovers of wealth, and replacing livestock would be inconvenient and costly. Also, how inhumane would it have been for them to have responded that they would not intervene on behalf of their helpless beasts? Negative responses would have shattered their ultra-religious facades.
The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley ¹ —which translates, from Scottish to English, as the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
The plot to trap Jesus had suddenly taken an unexpected turn, and they were speechless. If the Pharisees had enough compassion to rescue, on the Sabbath, their livestock; how much more compassion should they have had for a fellow man?
The dropsical man had been trapped, much like the ox or ass in Jesus’ story, in a pit of despair—slowly drowning not in cistern water, but excess body fluid. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, did what was needed when needed. His motivation was neither concern for Himself nor His onlookers, but the sick man. Jesus grabbed, into His arms, the man and rescued him from a slow, agonizing death.
Sometimes, we all are guilty of having inflated egos. Just as the Pharisees put on their Pharisaical garb, we put on our airs of self importance. We pat ourselves on our backs while stabbing knives in the backs of others as we strive to get ahead and stay ahead.
Proverbs 16:18 (King James Version)
18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
God sees all and knows all. He is a God of justice, which He disburses to each person based on his or her actions. When necessary, God gently brings us down a notch or two and sets us straight.
All too often, we have to pick ourselves up and accept the reality that God finds us, in so many ways, in need of healing. Guess what, fellow sinner, if Jesus’ reach is wide enough to envelope a dropsical man and make him whole; I dare say His reach is wide enough to do the same for you. Why not ask Him?
Epilombano the day!
Yours in Christ,
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.
¹ Burns, Robert (July 31, 1786). “To A Mouse”. Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. pp. 138-140.
Featured Image: Unknown Artist; Jesus Heals On The Sabbath; Cathedral Of The Assumption; Monreale/Sicily, Italy; 12th-13th Century Mosaic