Is it Lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?

Luke 14:1-6 SCC 12/4/11



            This is the last Sabbath incident in the book of Luke. Sabbath ‘incidents’ are important to look and must be noted by his readers as filled with significance:

1. Luke 4:16-30 Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath—all in it were filled with rage hearing him.

2. Luke 4:31-37 Jesus teaches on the Sabbath healing demon possessed man amazement & popularity.

3. Luke 6:1-5 Jesus disciples pick grain & Pharisees question this practice but Jesus confirms he’s Lord.

4. Luke 6:6-11 Jesus heals withered hand watched closely by officials and they were filled with rage.

5. Luke 13:10-17 Jesus heals woman possessed and synagogue official scolds him for this.


A. We learn that nothing Jesus says changes matters for the religious officials.

B. Neither side backs down in their approach to the issue of the Sabbath. The officials determined to uphold their legalistic traditions. Jesus determined to reveal God’s compassion and care on Sabbath.

C. The two groups are headed for a confrontation since the leadership refuses to respond to the repeated evidences that God is working through Jesus.


            This final Sabbath ‘incident’ stresses what Jesus says more than what he does though the significance of this Sabbath miracle is the silence it provoked among these same religious officials. The silence says volumes though as the response indicates the Pharisees still refuse to accept his authority.


1. Being watched very carefully v 1


            The setting for this Sabbath incident took place in the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. This seemed to be a rather formal Sabbath Day dinner (verse 7), which probably followed the assembly at a synagogue. There is no mention of Jesus’ disciples being invited. Apparently, Jesus accepted the invitation to cover some crucial issues with those following the rabbinical Jewish leadership. The mood is clear from the start that these religious officials were watching Jesus very closely. The idea is that they watch lurking with intent.


2. The religious officials are curious to see how Jesus responds to a sick man v 2


            Sitting with them is a man with dropsy, a swelling from excessive accumulation of watery fluid in cells and tissues. This seems a setup or even a trap especially since the Sabbath incidents have produced animosity from the religious officials. In 11:54 Luke wants us to know that these same leaders are plotting against Jesus to catch him in something he might say. This sick man is right there in front of Jesus where he can respond to this man’s need right in front of everyone else.


3. Jesus uses the occasion to question the lawyers and Pharisees v 3


            So the stage is being set before the action begins. Notice Jesus is ‘answering’ their question. Jesus replied indicating that he is actually dialoguing with their suspicion even though that suspicions has not been voiced. The question is a legal one related to the Law’s commentary of the subject of the Sabbath and healing. Is this permissible? Of course they do have an opinion on this subject. Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Lk 6:2. The question for them creates a lose-lose scenario. First, if they agree that healing is permitted then what about their sacred Sabbath tradition? Second, if they say it is not permitted then they stand in the way of doing a compassionate act on the Sabbath as Jesus has repeatedly done in God’s name. Luke wants us to reflect on this, ‘have these religious officials learned anything from God’s activity through Jesus ministry on the Sabbath?’


4. The religious officials stay quiet v 4a


            No one speaks. The word ‘but’ makes the point of the entire exchange. The focus is upon how these officials will respond to what Jesus says and does when all along they thought they were setting up Jesus to critique his response. There is no specific statement as to why they remained silent but it is clear that they were not agreeing with him and thus had still learned nothing about who He is. The narrative leaves us to reflect on the reasons for their response, which is informed by their previous responses. This group is so fixed on their tradition that it is safe to say nothing has changed. It is difficult to dislodge legalism or to pour new wine into old wineskins. When people already like what they got then there is no reason or motivation for them to change.


TRADITIONS: Following Christ inevitably results in breaking sacred traditions.

1. They do create teachable moments—why do we do this?

2. They help bring chaos into order by providing a standard to keep one out of trouble.

3. But they will also be polluted with worldly values. They will be a mixture of the Bible and personal or worldly opinion.

4. They are limited in what they can teach—usually what is ordered or wise but not mature.

5. They are competitive with the Bible since they add to it or take from it. Unlike the Bible, traditions dull the senses and make people dull, complacent, and unmovable. Traditions have no foundational authority. They promote pride and diminish humility.


5. Jesus acts and deliberately heals the man on the Sabbath v 4


            Jesus could have waited until Monday but then the point of the lesson and exposure would have been lost on both the officials and the disciples. So Jesus takes hold of this man. In some way Jesus had physical contact with him and perhaps embracing him—same word used for arresting or seizing someone (Luke 23:26; Acts 23:19)—he heals him right on the spot. It is clear to everyone present that Jesus has done this himself. Then Jesus sent him away possibly with some type of gesture. Jesus has done a good work and it has been done on the Sabbath contrary to the religious officials tradition!


6. Jesus question gets the silent treatment v 5-6


            5 Here we see Jesus taking the offensive as he is defending his actions even though the religious officials keep silent. First, he knows what they are all thinking. So he asks a question to expose it. Second, Jesus points to the religious officials own Sabbath practice to justify his own actions, namely, what would they do if their son or ox were in danger falling into a well? Wouldn’t they perform a basic act of compassion and rescue? Of course they would. Even on God’s day of rest these basic acts of human compassion take precedence. God has sent Jesus and what Jesus actions teach us is that God desires his people to reach out with mercy and compassion to meet needs. Even on his day of rest we should not cease to be compassionate.


            6 The silence continues and it is deafening. They could make no reply to this question. Actually, there is no response to Jesus throughout the entire episode. They could not refute him at all. The silence speaks itself and Luke wants it to tell us that no response is possible since these religious officials stand condemned. We must reflect upon this response for what it means. The numerous Sabbath incidents have produced no change whatsoever.


NB: John came preaching a baptism of repentance. Jesus chose to identify with John’s ministry and message. Yet these Pharisees refuse to repent of anything. They refuse Jesus ministry and message because they refuse to humble themselves and give up control of the masses. This pride will lead to Jesus death. Traditions must not become more important than the Word of God.