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.
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.
One of the leading Pharisees has invited Jesus to his house to share a meal. There are several occasions in the Gospels when Jesus is invited by Pharisees to share a meal. Perhaps they are curious, as now we are told, ‘they watched him,’ perhaps through malice.
We are not told how a man with dropsy could enter the house of a leader of the Pharisees. Here he is, though, waiting to be cured. Once more, the question of healing on the Sabbath is raised, and with it the issue of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and the absolutely critical fact of the divinity of Jesus, granting him authority to reinterpret the Sabbath and so drawing him ever closer to the cross.
The Pharisees’ silence is emphasized. They are silent after both of Jesus’ questions: ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ And: ‘Which of you would not save an ass or an ox on the Sabbath?’ There is no answer available to the Pharisees, because they are caught in two related sets of contradictions, between what they profess and what they actually do, and in terms of the internal contradictions inherent in their grasp of the Law.
The question of the Sabbath is crucial to our understanding of the enmity between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, and Jewish orthodoxy. Christ is going to be crucified not because he is a fine moral teacher, or a social reformer, or a liberal rabbi reinterpreting Scripture, or indeed a worker of miracles; Christ is going to the cross because he is the Son of God. This is what he is letting the world know, should people wish to understand his message, and the Pharisees get this. That is why they want him dead. Christ’s claim to lordship of the Sabbath is, to Jewish orthodoxy, anathema.
To be healing on the Sabbath is of great symbolic significance, and this significance resonates through to our own day. We are healed because Christ’s healing on the Sabbath tends toward the crucifixion of Christ, through which we in turn are healed. The cross and our salvation are present in the work Christ does on this day of the week which was set aside specifically for people to worship God. This truth underlies the Pharisees’ silence.
O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.
For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness.
King James Audio Bible KJV | King James Version | Endnotes
Christian Healing On The Sabbath
Luke 14:1-6 tells the story of Jesus healing a man with dropsy on the Sabbath. This event takes place in a synagogue where Jesus was invited to dine with a group of Pharisees. The religious leaders were watching Jesus closely to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath, which they considered to be breaking the law. However, Jesus knew their thoughts and went ahead to heal the man anyway, highlighting the importance of compassion and mercy over legalistic rules.
This story raises important questions about the relationship between Sabbath observance and the healing of people in need. The Pharisees were strict in their interpretation of the Sabbath law, forbidding any work or activity, including healing. However, Jesus challenged this interpretation and showed that the Sabbath was meant to be a day of rest and worship, but also a day of mercy and compassion towards those in need.
The Bible teaches us that God created the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship. In Exodus 20:8-11, God commands the Israelites to ‘remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it’. This commandment is repeated throughout the Old Testament and is seen as an important sign of the covenant between God and His people. For example:
- Exodus 16:23 – ‘And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.’
- Exodus 31:13 – ‘Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.’
- Leviticus 23:3 – ‘Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.’
- Deuteronomy 5:12 – ‘Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.’
- Nehemiah 9:14 – ‘And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant.’
- Ezekiel 20:20 – ‘And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.’
However, the Bible also teaches that the Sabbath is a day of mercy and compassion. In Isaiah 58:6-7, God rebukes the Israelites for their hypocritical observance of the Sabbath, saying: ‘Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?’
Jesus emphasized the importance of mercy and compassion on the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:11-12, Jesus asks the Pharisees: ‘What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.’
In John 9:14-16, Jesus on the Sabbath heals a man born blind, and the Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the Law. Jesus responds by saying: ‘I have done one work, and ye all marvel. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the Sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath day?’