Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath?
by Mike Benson
“Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered” (Luke 6:6).
While inspiration limits many of the details of this occasion, we do know the identity of at least some of those who were present in the assembly.
The scribes and Pharisees were present (Luke 6:7). They had set themselves up as the authorized police of Jesus’ behavior and doctrine.
A man with a withered hand was also present./1 Was this poor fellow essentially planted by the lawyers in order to trap Jesus? There’s no definitive answer to that question, but the evidence forces us to raise a curious eyebrow.
In any case, the religious leaders were obviously anticipating Jesus’ arrival. Their question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” was not due to any desire to witness a miracle, nor to express compassion for the unfortunate man with the shriveled hand. They only wished to ensnare the Lord in his actions and discredit him before his peers.
Jesus could see through the façade of his antagonists. They had gotten so caught up in the day of the calendar that they overlooked the identity of the Messiah and the fact that the Son of God literally stood in their midst.
He had performed miracles on other occasions, but all they could see was a breach of their man-made traditions.
I find it fascinating that Jesus knew their ungodly motives and went to the synagogue anyway. And he could have healed the man with the withered hand on any other day of the week, but he chose to express mercy on the Sabbath–this Sabbath.
Milquetoast peacekeepers would have no doubt warned Jesus to quietly avoid the controversy all together.
“Lord, don’t upset these guys–just leave them alone and wait to heal this guy tomorrow. You’ve got enough grief and stress without another fuss with these troublemakers.”
But Jesus didn’t back down. He was confrontational and in their faces. He knew the only way to melt their frozen hearts was to expose their duplicity for all to see.
He hated hypocrisy more than all other sins and therefore chose to “work,” at least as they interpreted it, in order to reveal their true spirit and motives.
He told the man to step forward so that all could watch the drama unfold. He then asked the scribes and Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
As he had done on other occasions, Jesus turned their own question against them–and then Jesus healed. The handicap was removed, the man was whole, and perhaps most telling of all, his opponents were silenced, yet again.
Yes, the Lord knew the scribes and Pharisees were waiting. He knew the twisted question they were going to ask. He knew they would hate him–(and ultimately kill him) for what he would say and do.
However, Jesus went in the synagogue, laid bare their stubborn, blinded hearts, turned their own question against them, and healed the man with the withered hand anyway.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath because rabbinic tradition had turned the God-ordained day of rest into a day of incredible burden. Jesus healed on the Sabbath because those who demanded certain behaviors of others failed to carry out and live them themselves.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath because he despised pharisaical insincerity at its very core.
Just a thought, brethren. When error is deliberately taught and practiced by those who claim to know Jesus today, how should we respond?
- Should we wait and heal on another day?
- Should we wait until the Sabbath is past?
1/ The Greek word for “withered” is xeros and means dry. This appendage, for whatever reason, had been deprived of the normal moisture afforded the rest of his body.