A Living Parable: Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

There is strong scriptural evidence to suggest that Jesus modeled His personal ministry on the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Jeremiah is a major prophet in the Old Testament and is often called the “weeping prophet” because of his physical actions that conveyed God’s message to His people through Jeremiah. He is accredited with authoring, including the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Kings and Book of Lamentations which all chronicle his physical actions and their meaning in Jewish society.

Thus the Lord said to me: Make yourself a yoke of straps and bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. (Jeremiah 27:2-3)

Jeremiah once famously bore a wooden yoke and proceeded to the courts of the most powerful monarchs of his time to demonstrate God’s teaching of the yoke the people had born by worshiping false gods and straying from the Lord, particularly because of the influence of a false prophet. After the wooden yoke is broken by one of the Kings, again as a sign of his supposed ability to crush the enemy’s power, Jeremiah returns with a message about an iron yoke that the people of Israel have taken upon themselves because of their sin.

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Go, tell Hananiah, Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations so that they may serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and they shall indeed serve him; I have even given him the wild animals. And the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: I am going to send you off the face of the earth. Within this year you will be dead, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.” (Jeremiah 28:12-16)

Jesus often teaches in the same manner. And this makes perfect sense since it was God who commanded Jeremiah to take the yoke and use his physical demonstration as a lesson to the people of Israel. And Jesus is God, so that would mean that Jesus was of course part of Jeremiah’s message from God. But of all of the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus seems to express Himself on earth using the same methods that Jeremiah deployed hundreds of years before His coming.

A perfect example of this type of physical demonstration is when Jesus heals a crippled woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke is the only Gospel writer that tells us of this miracle performed by Christ, but it fits within Luke’s persistent focus on aspects of the human body (which is typical considering he was a physician). It is important to note that there is something seemingly off at the very start of this account. The woman who is present in the synagogue– with what almost certainly appears to be scoliosis– would not be permitted inside of the place of worship under Jewish law. She would have been considered unclean and her livelong illness would have been interpreted as a sign that she was out of favour with God (or more plausibly that her family was out of favour with God). So right out of the gate in this account from Luke, we are skeptical that this entire scene isn’t a setup of some sort. Add on top the convenient fact that the president of the synagogue suddenly shows up with a sermon ready on hand about keeping the Sabbath holy. There is little doubt that this was a setup to trap Jesus by Jewish authorities in the region. But our God is a keen God and channeling a method of teaching used by Jeremiah centuries before, Jesus teaches the authorities a valuable lesson.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:10-14)

This account is not made in Luke’s Gospel simply to demonstrate a miracle performed by Christ. There is much more to the entire living parable here. The core of this Gospel account is the misplaced sanctity of the leaders of the nation of Israel. Often times Jesus will directly rebuke the leaders of the Jewish faith of His time for misinterpreting the law and misunderstanding God’s will, especially for the poor and sick among them. And this physical healing is in fact a living parable of how Christ comes to make all this new and holy and how that is the foundation of the law. In rejecting this woman because of her ailments, the Jewish authorities claim that they are carrying out God’s will and keeping the place of worship holy and clean. In healing on the Sabbath Jesus is directly contradicting a very closely held teaching within the Jewish establishment that no work shall be done on the Sabbath, but He also points out how hypocritical the Jews are about this teaching because of their complex legal system around interpreting what is okay and what is not okay to do on the Sabbath. It is even more perhaps convenient that when we review this web of legalism, more and more the exceptions are made for concerns relating to affluence and financial security. Even the example Jesus uses with the donkey relates to an exception that would only be relevant to people rich enough to own livestock at that time. So Jesus heals the woman, and this is a physical representation of how His blood will heal and make all things new within the world.

And it is important to see this healing in this light. This particular miracle is often hard for Christians who themselves suffer physical ailments. Jesus says, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” Well certainly, but why are we not all worthy as sons and daughters of the same Abraham to be healed just the same as this woman? It is because this healing is much more than just fixing the woman. Indeed, there is nothing inherently wrong with her at all– just the same as there is nothing inherently wrong or abnormal about any differently-abled person. Jesus is not healing her for the sake of healing her, He is healing her to demonstrate a very powerful and very important lesson: that He comes to truly sanctify Israel and the whole world.

Be Sure to Check Out