When Jesus “riled up” the Pharisees by having His disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, He demonstrated to them—and us—that the Sabbath was created to serve us, not us to serve the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). He modeled the fact that we can and should take care of our own needs on rest days. In the second of Matthew’s examples, we’ll see that we can also meet the needs of others.
The Sabbath is designed not to restrict but to restore.
After Jesus’ disciples quieted their rumbling stomachs with some raw grain (yuck, I think!), they headed into the local synagogue (v. 9). They were somewhere in Galilee. It might have been Capernaum, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31), or one of the other cities he denounced just one chapter back (Matthew 11:20-24). The Pharisees were there, too. And an interesting new character shows up…one with no lines but a crucial role. I have many unanswered questions about this man with a deformed hand (v. 10).
- Did the Pharisees “plant” him there? They were “looking for a reason” to arrest Jesus, but his presence in the synagogue might have been a coincidence.
- Does the guy know what’s going on? Was he perhaps in the field with them, too? Maybe he had been following Jesus, watching for an opportunity to show Jesus his hand and ask for healing.
- Did he come to worship innocently in the synagogue or did he come to be healed by Jesus? After all, Jesus had healed and could continue to heal lots of people in the area (Matthew 11:20-24 again & 12:15). Or maybe he had no idea Jesus was there and ignorantly walked into this confrontation.
- How does he feel about being compared to a farm animal? I think, culturally, this wasn’t as offensive to him as it would be to us.
In general, doctors and other healers weren’t permitted to work on the Sabbath except in life-or-death situations.* This guy was either born with a shriveled hand or he had some kind of accident. Either way, he wasn’t on the verge of death, so there was no urgent reason to heal Him.
The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus—seemingly their favorite pastime for those three years of His ministry (see Matthew 22:15-40 and this post)—so they asked Him about the legality of healing on the Sabbath. Legality…legalism. We talked about that in the first post of this series.
How could the Pharisees
argue with Jesus’ logic?
Like when he presented David’s story about the bread (Matthew 12:3-4), Jesus answered with a comparison. This time, he referenced a practical situation. If your farm animal was injured or trapped, you would rescue it regardless of the day of the week. A person was clearly more valuable than an animal. It made sense to rescue and/or restore a human being on the Sabbath. How could the Pharisees argue with this logic? They had probably pulled sheep out of pits themselves.
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. –Matthew 12:12
Compassion is never forbidden.
We’d be hard pressed to say Jesus did any work in the synagogue that day. The formerly-disabled man put his arm out in front of him, and it was healed! Jesus didn’t touch him, say something to him, make mud to rub on him, or even command him to go do anything first. The healing was almost a non-event, already completed before the word was spoken.
Again, I’m full of questions.
- Did the man feel the change? Or was he as surprised as everyone else when he pulled his arm out of his cloak?
- What did he do next? Did he jump around and shout? Did he walk up to Jesus and shake his hand (using his formerly useless hand to do it)?
- What did he tell his family and neighbors when he got home later that day?
Oh, how I wish someone had been recording this moment on their cellphones!
At least we know how the Pharisees felt. They were incensed! Having been “bested” yet again, they retreated to work on their get-rid-of-Jesus scheme (v. 14).
What do we learn here?
First, we learn that I have lots of questions about scenes in the Gospels. But you already knew that.
Second, and far more importantly, we learn that restoration is a key component of Sabbathing. Whether we’re resting to restore ourselves or actively restoring others, we’re fulfilling the purpose of Sabbath as God designed it.
How do Jesus’ teachings–both His words and His actions–affect the way you will observe Sabbath moving forward? All of us (my readers and me!) would love to hear from you because we’re all figuring this out together.
*Check the study notes in your Bible or those at BibleGateway.com for this kind of information. That’s where I found it (click the “STUDY THIS” tab on the right).
Want another perspective on Sabbath? Try this funny and all-too-honest post from my writer-friend, Mary Felkins: Force Quit.