Jesus healed on the Sabbath, using the memorial day of Creation to show His power to restore men and women to health and wholeness. In Luke 14, Jesus was invited to a Sabbath meal in “the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees” (Luke 14:1). The assembled Jewish leaders “watched what Jesus would do as He came into the house, because a man with a tumor who had been invited was already there. The hosts had set a trap for Jesus. Otherwise, they would not have invited a sick man to a meal, because they believed that he was being punished by God for his sins.
Jesus responded to their unspoken challenge with a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Luke 14:3). They instantly recognized their dilemma. If they answered “Yes,” they would call into question their own traditions; if they answered, “No,” they would expose their lack of compassion. So “they kept silent” (Luke 14:4).
After healing the man, Jesus let him go. Then He asked a second question which completely exposed their hypocrisy: “Which of you, having a son (margin) or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull them out on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5). Jesus put the rescuing of a son from a pit and the healing of a man from a tumor on the same moral level. And, if they would even rescue an ox from a pit, but not rescue a man from a tumor, they were valuing an animal above a person. While “they kept silent,” after Jesus’ first question, now “they could not answer Him” (Luke 14:6), because they were speechless by the man’s healing and Jesus’ question.
How should we answer Jesus’ questions? How do your answers shape your Sabbath activities? If the prohibition against work on the Sabbath liberates us from having to earn our daily bread, it will give us an opportunity to help others and thereby celebrate God’s creative, sustaining power. We are free to participate in Jesus’ healing ministry in every dimension of life. It becomes our expression of thanks to God for our own healing from sin and sickness. If the Sabbath is a memorial of Creation, what better way to celebrate it than by helping others experience the re-creative, healing power of Jesus?
The truth that it is lawful to help men and women on the Sabbath is the foundation of Sabbath ethics. When we submit our Sabbath-keeping guidelines to Jesus’ principle that the Sabbath is a day for doing good, we may find that some of our Sabbath prohibitions actually prevent life-giving actions. We may find that some of our Sabbath practices have no healing value and should be done on other days.
Let Jesus’ unspoken answer, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” liberate you each Sabbath to minister Jesus’ healing power to others.
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University