Do I Need a Jesus Realignment?
Or, Why It Matters to Me that Jesus Healed on the Sabbath
By Beth Demme
Was Jesus a rabble-rouser? Was he a rebel with a cause? Is that why Jesus broke the rules about the Sabbath? When Jesus allowed his disciples to pluck grain and when he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, was he just trying to draw attention to himself?
I don’t think so.
Maybe in some sense, Jesus was perceived as a rebel, but his purposes were not simply rebellion.
Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was always intended to be a time for healing and restoration.
In all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 6), the story of Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath is paired with the story of Jesus permitting his disciples to glean food from the grainfields on the Sabbath. These events culminate in a conspiracy by the religious leaders to destroy Jesus (Matthew 12:14, Mark 3:6, Luke 6:11).
It’s as if the conspiracy to destroy Jesus is an extension of their failure to understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
While choosing to work on the Sabbath (as the disciples did when they plucked the wheat) could be seen as a human choice, healing was only possible through God. When the man’s withered hand was restored, it was made plain that God was at work thru Jesus, even on the Sabbath.
That makes sense because the Sabbath was always about wholeness.
Moses reiterates the purpose of the Sabbath when he recalls the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy:
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
The Sabbath was all-encompassing—everyone and everything was permitted to rest, even the animals and the land. With the passage of time, the rules about Sabbath rest were remembered, but their purpose was forgotten.
Instead of using the Sabbath as an opportunity to join in God’s wholeness, it became a way to exclude people from God’s covenant. A principle that was meant to honor and preserve life turned into an excuse to avoid doing life-giving work.
Jesus wanted to realign the religious leaders’ way of thinking.
He showed them the Sabbath wasn’t made to exclude people or delay healing, but instead was an opportunity to bring healing. This is the heart behind Jesus’ words: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
It seems obvious to us now, through the lens of hindsight, that the religious leaders were making a mistake. We balk at the way they prioritized legalism over relationship. We shake our heads in disapproval at the way they distorted God’s good intentions, turning the Sabbath into an excuse to separate people from God. We dismay over their attempt to vilify Jesus, the savior of the world, because he healed someone.
And yet, I find myself wondering if I need Jesus to realign and reorient any of my religious ideals?
Have I, with the best of intentions, inadvertently elevated any biblical principles over the commandments to love God and love others? Have I fallen prey to the temptation to act as if humankind was made for religion, rather than remembering that religion is made for humankind?
When that happens, I know I need to take a Sabbath rest. I need to offer my withered heart to God just as the man offered his withered hand.
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