If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! –Matthew 12:11-12
The Gospels record seven times Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. In every situation, we don’t know the person’s name! (One was Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, so we know a bit more about her, but still no name.) We can only define these people by their malady and their location. I’ve listed all seven passages at the bottom, but let’s take a few minutes to look with more detail at three of these people.
The Impure/Unclean Spirit in Capernaum
Jesus had only recently begun his public ministry. A few people were committed to following Him, and lots of people followed Him around. Things got dicey in Judea, so he headed north to Galilee. One Sabbath, while he was teaching in the synagogue, a demon-possessed man interrupted Him. The Message calls him “demonically disturbed.” He just started yelling right there in the synagogue! He said,
“Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” –Luke 4:34
Jesus wasn’t ready to broadcast his Sonship so publicly, so he silenced the demon quickly.
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” –Luke 4:35
The demon didn’t like it, yet it had no choice but to obey. It shook the man, threw him onto the ground and caused him to shriek, but it didn’t injure him as it departed.
Can you imagine the murmuring around the walls of the synagogue after this? There’s no way Jesus could finish his sermon! While Jesus retreated to Simon Peter’s home nearby, the people were amazed and told all their friends what happened (Luke 4:36-37).
A couple of observations:
- What happened to the guy after this? Did he just get up and walk out? Did someone offer medical treatment?
- If Jesus’ goal was to keep on the down-low, healing this man in front of so many witnesses didn’t help!
News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. –Mark 1:28
By evening, people were bringing all kinds of sick, injured, and/or crippled people to Jesus. He healed them all.
The Bent-Over Woman in the Synagogue
One Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue somewhere (maybe in Bethany or in/around Jerusalem) when he saw a woman there “who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all” (Luke 13:11). I’ve always imagined her as an old woman, bent with age like some octogenarians (or older) you might see. But the text doesn’t mention her age. She could have been eighteen and born this way. She could have been in her thirties, unable to have children or live a full life. Regardless, eighteen years is a long time!
- No friends brought her to Jesus.
- She didn’t ask to be healed.
- She didn’t complain about her situation.
- She just went to synagogue as usual.
But Jesus saw her and called her forward.* I imagine she would have preferred not to be the center of attention, but one does what Jesus asks.
This time, Jesus didn’t pay attention to the spirit causing her infirmity. He focused on her:
“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. –Luke 13:12b-13
Let’s pause in that space between the sentences. Jesus freed her, but she remained bent over. It didn’t occur to her that she should…that she could…stand up straight. She didn’t know she was healed. Perhaps Jesus put one hand on her lower back and one hand on her shoulder, pushing her body upright. She needed a little help owning her miracle.
Remember the man by the pool of Bethesda? He just sat there until Jesus told him to pick up his mat. There’s always a moment when we have to believe Jesus has done what He said.
The Swollen Man in the Pharisee’s House
On still another Sabbath, Jesus was invited to “Sunday Dinner” in the home of an important Pharisee. Luke lets us know they were already watching Him closely, trying to find something with which to accuse Him (Luke 14:1).
In the home, perhaps even directly across the table from Jesus, sat “a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body” (Luke 14:2). I’m sorry, but all I can think of is the guy in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who inflated like a blueberry. It wasn’t like that. My study notes say it could have been edema. I wonder if the man even wanted to be there. Like the man with the shriveled hand (Luke 6:6-11), it’s very possible the Pharisees set up this little test intentionally.
Jesus knew He was being tested. Sitting there with all these experts in the law, He asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). They wouldn’t answer Him. So He just did it. He touched the man, and the swelling went away (Luke 14:4). Jesus wouldn’t let this man’s status as a pawn in a life-and-death game deter him from treating the man with compassion and healing him just as He would anyone else.
Can you imagine being one of these people Jesus healed?
- Consumed by a spirit that, among other things, causes you to shout in the middle of church…
- Always staring at the ground because your back won’t straighten up…
- Suffering painful swelling then put on display just to make a point…
These are not the people written about in history books. But their lives are the building blocks of Jesus’ reputation. Even though we don’t know their names, we should thank them for helping us know Jesus better. Like the blind man beside the road,
“This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (or her). –John 9:3
Maybe your name will never be familiar to strangers either. I’m learning to be okay with that as long as God’s glory increases.
Jesus’ Sabbath insurgency intentionally provoked the Pharisees by healing people. These 3 were some of the by-products, but they were still healed! My #healthcondition is #NotAboutMe.Tweet
What are you thinking now that we’ve looked at these three situations? Has Jesus pulled you into a plot in which you’re not the hero/heroine? Want to tell us about it? Or share an interesting observation from these passages? The comments are open for you.
For more on the Sabbath (including Jesus’ Sabbath insurgency), search “Sabbathing” here on Not About Me. I did a series in 2018.
Jesus’ Sabbath Miracles
- Lk 4:31 – demon-possessed man
- Lk 4:38 – Simon’s sick mother-in-law
- Lk 6:6 – man with shriveled hand. See One Man’s Very Real Sabbath Restoration.
- Lk 13:14 – bent over woman
- Lk 14:1-6 – swollen man in pharisee’s house
- Jn 5:10 – crippled man at pool of Bethesda. You can read God’s Priority: His Kingdom and the flash fiction piece Just Pick Up Your Mat.
- Jn 9:14 – blind man begging. I wrote about this one in The Blind Man’s Been Bluffed.
*I’m sure He had compassion on her, but this is also the phase of His ministry when He tended to provoke the Pharisees (e.g. Matthew 12).