Debates about the Sabbath – Healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11)

Debates about the Sabbath

6 On another sabbath he went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.

7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.

8 But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up and stand before us.” And he rose and stood there.

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

10 Looking around at them all, he then said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so and his hand was restored.

11 But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.


Spiritual – Our life is restored when we are healed

In verse 9 Jesus says “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”  The question about doing good versus evil is clear enough.  In the act of healing Jesus is doing a good; the Pharisees’ intentions are clearly evil.  But Jesus also asks about saving life vs. destroying it.  Why?  Is he being dramatic?  This man’s life wasn’t at stake; he just has a withered hand.  And why would he talk about destroying life?  To answer these questions a little background is necessary.

Notice that verse 7 says “the Scribes and Pharisees were watching him carefully … so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.”  What they want to accuse him of is, in general, a blatant disregard for the Sabbath, and in particular, working on the Sabbath.  Under Jewish law, working on the Sabbath is punishable by death (see for example Ex 35:2, and Numbers 15:32-36).  So the Scribes and Pharisees were paying attention to Jesus’ actions only with the intent of destroying His life.  (Under Roman rule, the Jews couldn’t put anyone to death themselves.  But in this story, the Scribes and Pharisees are trying to get a “conviction”; they’ll worry about the execution later.)

Well, that explains the “destroy life” question.  But what about the miraculous healing “saves life?”  Again, some background is useful.  The word “life” is one of those biblical words that we need to pay special attention to whenever we see it.  You see, life and death sometimes mean heartbeat and respiration; and sometimes it means more.  Very often we will see the word “life” used to describe a fullness of life, or a completeness of life; and man can never have completeness of life if it’s not also infused with God’s grace.

For example, in Genesis 2:16-17 God forbids man to eat from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.  Further He says “when you eat from it you will die”.  Well, we all know what happened.  In Genesis Chapter 3, Adam ate from the forbidden tree.  However, when he ate, he didn’t drop dead – at least not in the heartbeat and respiration way.  He dropped alight; Adam fell from Grace.  That is, the Grace that Adam had in the Garden was lost in the fall and Adam could no longer have the fullness or completeness of life that God had made him for.  We see a similar example in Deuteronomy 30:15-20.  Moses is speaking to the people and he sums up the covenant for them “I have today set before you life and good, death and evil”.  He makes it clear again saying “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.”  He tells the Israelites that if they stray from God’s covenant then they will perish.  Well, we all know what happened.  They strayed, yet they didn’t all immediately drop dead.  The Northern tribes were first exiled by the Assyrians and then later the Jews were exiled by the Chaldeans to Babylon. They Jews lived in exile for 60 years before returning to Jerusalem and a life in union with God. I could give another half dozen examples, but you get the idea.  Life sometimes means a fullness of life infused with God’s grace. Pray about these words from Jesus: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (see Jn 10:10).

When we “lose our life” like in Adam’s fall from grace, we are wounded.  The man with the withered hand can be seen as symbolizing mankind, wounded by sin … that is, dead because of sin; but not dead in terms of heartbeat and respiration.

So Jesus is in the Synagogue intent on healing, which is symbolic of saving life, and the Scribes and Pharisees are there intent on destroying His life.

Spiritual – keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus

Jesus has done more than die for our salvation, he has done more than incorporate us into his body and allowed us to share in the divine nature – he has also set an example for us to follow.  If we want to be transformed, if we want to do what Jesus would do, then we need to keep our eyes fixed on Him (see Hebrews 12:2).  He shows us the way.  That’s how we should behave.  But now, let’s take a moment and ask how the Pharisees are behaving.

They’ve got their eyes fixed on him alright.  But not so that they may grow in holiness; not to strengthen their faith.  The Scribes and Pharisees in this story are the perfect counter-example for our behavior.  Yet they are also the exact example set by the modern world.

Jesus is clearly trying to teach the Pharisees how God cares for his people.  If they are truly the leaders of the people, then they would want to care for God’s children the same way that God Himself would do it.  God heals and brings life … the Pharisees in this story seek death.  Jesus teaches what it means to be Godly – the teaching isn’t met with “oh, now I get it.” But is instead met with “we have to destroy you.”  Verse 11 says they became enraged; and they certainly plan to rain that rage down on Jesus.

We can see the modern world in this light too.  The Church, which is the Mystical body of Christ and teaches what it means to be Holy, is also met with rage from the world. By “world” I mean that mob around us that promotes materialism, consumerism, selfism, relativism, etc.  When met with teaching contrary to those “values” the world is enraged and says of the Church “we have to destroy you.”

For our part, we need to be deaf to the world and listen to the life-saving Word of God found in the scriptures and in the Church herself.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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