Jesus’ Life and Ministry
What Is Lawful on the Sabbath?
IT IS on another Sabbath that Jesus visits a synagogue near the Sea of Galilee. Present is a man with a withered right hand. The scribes and the Pharisees are watching closely to see whether Jesus will heal him. Finally they ask: “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?”
The Jewish religious leaders believe that healing is lawful on the Sabbath only if life is in danger. They teach, for example, that on the Sabbath it is unlawful to set a bone or bandage a sprain. So the scribes and the Pharisees are questioning Jesus in an effort to get an accusation against him.
Jesus, however, knows their reasonings. At the same time, he realizes they have adopted an extreme, unscriptural view as to what constitutes a violation of the Sabbath-day requirement prohibiting work. Thus Jesus sets the stage for a dramatic confrontation by telling the man with the withered hand: “Get up and come to the center.”
Now, turning to the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus says: “Who will be the man among you that has one sheep and, if this falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not get hold of it and lift it out?” Since a sheep represents a financial investment, they would not leave it in the pit until the next day, perhaps to sicken and lose its value. Besides, the Scriptures say: “The righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal.”
Drawing a parallel, Jesus continues: “All considered, of how much more worth is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do a fine thing on the sabbath.” Unable to refute such logical, compassionate reasoning, the religious leaders keep silent.
With indignation, as well as grief at their obstinate stupidity, Jesus looks around. Then he says to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretches it out and the hand is healed.
Rather than being happy that the man’s hand is restored, the Pharisees go out and immediately conspire with the party followers of Herod to kill Jesus. This political party evidently includes members of the religious Sadducees. Ordinarily, this political party and the Pharisees are openly opposed to each other, but they are solidly united in their opposition to Jesus. Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11; Proverbs 12:10; Exodus 20:8-10.
◆ What was the setting for a dramatic confrontation between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders?
◆ What did the Jews believe regarding healing on the Sabbath?
◆ What illustration did Jesus use to refute their wrong views?