Summary: Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and used it to make a point: God cares deeply, there's always a critic, and we are to live free from the chains of legalism.
When It’s OK to Break the Rules
Jesus was always getting into trouble over the “blue laws” of his day. Remember blue laws? Stores can’t open before a certain hour on Sunday, or at all? Or stores can’t serve alcohol before a certain time? I grew up in a church-attending household. On Sunday after church we had a big meal. We called it “Sunday dinner” even though it happened at lunch time. (I’ve tried to train my northern wife in this cultural nuance, but no success thus far.) I’m sure there was a lot of work involved in this meal, and a lot of clean-up after it, mostly done by my mom. And then everyone collapsed, especially her. We read the funnies, and my dad read the rest of the paper. We watched Paul Bear Bryant talk about yesterday’s football game, as we ate Lay’s potato chips and drank Coca-Cola along with the Bear. We generally goofed off. It was a day of rest, our Sabbath.
Jesus was raised in a Jewish culture that practiced a strict Sabbath. By his time there were clear rabbinical teachings about what was work and what was not work. From Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, the Jewish family rested. Any meals were prepared before Sabbath began. Families attended Synagogue, which was kind of like our Sunday school, a place to learn the scriptures. They worshiped as a family. And they relaxed in their homes.
In today’s reading, Jesus once again violated the strict traditional rabbi interpretation of the Sabbath by “working” [making air quotes]. I put “working” in quotes, because I’m not sure how much work it took our Lord to do a miracle. He seemed to do it without breaking a sweat. And he didn’t try to do it on the sly. He did this miracle, like others on the Sabbath, very publicly. And he turned it into a public lesson. Let’s see what we can learn along with the people gathered there that day. First,
1. Consider the compassion of God (vv. 11-13)
Remember, when you see Jesus at work, you see the very activity of God. He told his disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Earlier he had told them that he only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Here, Jesus reveals the compassion of God for his people.
Look at the description of this woman in verse 11: “A woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.” She was “crippled by a spirit.” The Greek literally says she was “having a spirit of weakness.” Doctor Luke correctly attributed her ailment to the evil one, Satan himself, who reigns over all evil spirits. Sickness is not of God. It is not a part of his good creation. Our sin in general has allowed it to enter the world. And God took pity on this poor woman who had been ruled by it for 18 long years!
Commentators believe she suffered from spondylitis ankylopoietica, a form of chronic inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine. Her backbone was probably fused in such a way that she could not walk upright. Note that Jesus was so moved by her condition that he didn’t wait for her to ask; he just told her she would be healed. And she was. Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’” Verse 13, “Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.”
Jesus took time for a sick woman, when society didn’t have much to do with women. And the woman’s life was forever changed by the touch of the Savior. Unfortunately, one person’s life was not changed. And that brings us to #2,
2. Count on the challenge of a critic (v. 14)
Don’t you know that, even if you have the best of intentions, you’re still going to receive criticism. I bet, with all the interior design work around this place of late, even with all the improvements and updates we will see and enjoy, I’ve just got a sneaking suspicion that there might be some criticism afloat as well. Change is hard, after all, even when it’s change for the better.
In today’s story, the Synagogue administrator was not a happy camper. Instead of speaking directly to Jesus, a popular rabbi, he turned his remarks to the crowd. Verse 14: “Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people [and I’m going to use my best bureaucratic voice here; (flat-toned, nasally, lacking in compassion or empathy)], ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’”