1 One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 4 But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. 5 And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 6 And they could not reply to this.
Meditation: How do you approach the commandment to observe
the sabbath as a day of rest to honor the Lord? The Pharisees were
convinced that Jesus was a reckless Sabbath-breaker. The Gospels
record seven incidents in which Jesus healed people on the Sabbath
- the seventh day of the week set apart for rest and the worship
of God. You would think Jesus' miracles on the Sabbath day of rest
would draw admiration and gratitude from all. Unfortunately, each
incident seemed to incite increasing hostility from the religious
leaders who held an interpretation that went beyond God's
intention for the Sabbath day of rest. They were certain that
Jesus was a dangerous and irreligious man, a Sabbath-breaker, who
must be stopped at all costs!
Is it ever lawful to refuse your neighbor in need?
Why did the Pharisees invite Jesus to dinner on the Sabbath, after he had already repeatedly broken their Sabbath regulations? Luke, a physician and keen observer of the human condition, notes the disposition of the Pharisees as they bring Jesus into their table fellowship. Body language often communicates more truthfully than words. Luke says the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus, no doubt with great suspicion. They wanted to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath ritual so they might accuse him of breaking God's law and find some way to discredit him. Jesus' attention and affection quickly turned to a person who had a physical ailment called dropsy. How did such a pitiable person get into this dinner party? In the hot arid climate of Palestine, homes were open and people freely dropped in without much fuss or attention. For the religious minded it was considered uncharitable to exclude beggars. And if a rabbi came to dinner, it would be expected for him to speak a few words. So, famous rabbis obviously drew crowds of bystanders wherever they went.
God's work of love and mercy never rests
Jesus already knew that his hosts wanted to catch him in the act of breaking their Sabbath rituals. So when Jesus gave his defense for healing on the Sabbath, they treated him with cold silence. They were ensnared in their own legalism and could not understand or see the purpose of God in allowing a work of healing to take precedence over rest. Why did God give the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath and enjoined his people to refrain from work on that day? The "Sabbath rest" was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God's goodness and the goodness of his works, both in creation and redemption. It was a day set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on our behalf. It was intended to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment. It was not, however, intended to put a stop to love of God and love of neighbor. The law of love supersedes the law of rest! Jesus shows the fallacy of the Pharisees' legalism by pointing to God's intention for the Sabbath: to do good and to heal.
God's word has power to heal and to set us free from ignorance, error, intolerance, and prejudice. Do you honor the Lord's Day with appropriate rest and worship of God, and do you treat your neighbor with love and mercy in all situations?
1 Praise the LORD. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them.
3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The law does not forbid mercy on the Sabbath, by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD)
"As they were silent from ill will, Christ refutes their
unrelenting shamelessness by the convincing arguments that he
uses. 'Whose son of you,' he says, 'or whose ox shall fall into a
pit, and he will not immediately draw him out on the sabbath day?'
If the law forbids showing mercy on the sabbath, why do you take
compassion on that which has fallen into the pit?... The God of
all does not cease to be kind. He is good and loving to
people."(excerpt from COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY