Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
The Bible is such a compact piece of writing, a simple read through it can miss so much. In this case simply getting some context by reading the preceding chapters would tell you that the Pharisees were following Jesus around, trying to figure out what he was up to and how to trip him up. A more thorough read of the entire Bible does not provide a complete explanation of the Pharisees. From this and other passages, you would know they were not followers of Christ, to put it mildly.
For my context in this blog, an important aspect of them is that they were well studied in the traditions and laws of the Torah. Many of those laws concern the Sabbath. Jews are not supposed to work on the Sabbath for instance. Much discussion is made about what exactly “work” means. Here Jesus asks the question of what can be done on the Sabbath in a way that the Torah can’t provide an answer.
Jesus thinks the answer is obvious, and he should know, I guess. In his act of working to heal a man on the Sabbath, he is putting an exclamation point on what he said at the end of chapter 2,
27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…”The Pharisees were accustomed to imposing their authority. They spoke from a position of certitude, something that people responded to or perhaps were afraid to speak against. Jesus rejects the concrete judgment. He asks a question that appeals to the heart. You don’t need to read the rest of the Bible to know that you should do good on the Sabbath.
As Juan Luis Segundo says, “Jesus reformulates the question or the problem on the level where it can find a positive answer in terms of what is good for people.”
We all want certainty and it is not wrong to strive for it. We want scientific accuracy, but we know that answers just lead to more questions. We want our politicians to be certain about their decisions even though it is their job to make decisions about things that don’t have complete data. Some go to church looking for certainty and many churches are glad to oblige. Other churches attempt to avoid that.
Segundo suggests that Jesus’ theology says something different, “It suggests that when people stop at theological certitudes, those certitudes fall apart in their hands.”
I find the churches that oblige with theological certainty are not consistent and often not honest. Those that avoid it may be consistent but not true to the heart. Jesus spoke to the oppression of his time and the political forces that supported it. Those times were different than Moses’ time and David’s time so he couldn’t rely on strict scriptural answers. Today is a still different time, and like Jesus we can’t rely strictly on the words of our ancestors.
Jesus and later Paul told us to look into our hearts first, then to understand the scriptures in that light. Our hearts say to take a stand against that which causes it to break. Churches should be speaking to those issues, not watering down their message for fear of scaring off members. Not doing so is likely to result in the churches that claim theological certitude but don’t honestly live it, being the only ones left.
Segundo quotes are from The Liberation of Theology Orbis Books, 1976