Does the Torah Allow Healing on Shabbat?

Image by nellyaltenburger from Pixabay


Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jesus stirs up trouble on Saturday. We’ve seen this before. What does he have against the Sabbath?

When we look at all the Sabbath goings on in the Gospels, we see healing on that day only six times and teaching four times. In Luke 4:31, Jesus does both. Naturally, every time Jesus heals people on Saturday, he gets into trouble.


It goes back to Creation when God is said to have rested on the seventh day. The Teaching that we should treat the day differently came from God through Moses in Exodus 20:9-11. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holyNIV

We should note that healing people on the Sabbath is permissible when someone’s life is at stake. Stop the bleeding, treat heart attacks, help someone who is too sick to move. If it can wait until tomorrow, then healing on Saturday is forbidden. None of the six people Jesus healed needed help that day; in fact, one man had never walked in his life. He would have been just as happy being healed on Sunday, or Thursday.

Most of our English translations translate the Greek word artos as a meal, or to dine. The word means bread or a loaf of bread. To invite a friend to dinner, you would ask, “Would you like to break bread with us?” Bread was so basic and so important that it took on a near holy status. It was the manna promised by God. All that is built into Jesus’ use of bread with wine in his bodily symbol for us to celebrate.

Notice that Jesus received an invitation to the house of a Pharisee along with several other community leaders, and they were all watching him. It seems he was there without any disciples; he was in the snake’s den without help.

It also appears that the man suffering from edema (called dropsy then) was planted in front of Jesus in yet another test of his willingness to disobey the Law.

Notice a couple of things. We seldom see Jesus without his disciples, but this shows us that he probably accepted every opportunity to share the Gospel. He knew what they were up to and was willing to play their game if he could teach them an important lesson. We know a few Pharisees became followers.

Note too that the man’s condition was not life-threatening. Edema most often occurs in connection with heart problems, though, there are other causes. Did he heal the man by healing the heart? If all he did was cause the excess water to disappear, the man would be suffering again days later. We don’t know, but I’m sure Jesus went to the source of the problem.

Why does Jesus ask, “Does the Torah allow healing on Shabbat or not?” CJB Jesus knew why he was invited to break bread. He also knew the man was not going to die that day. So, he went right to the lesson.

As I said above, healing is allowed on the Sabbath in some cases. That means that as holy as the Sabbath is, violations are acceptable. These well-educated men knew at once they were trapped, so they did not answer. Jesus did not push them for an answer; there’s no reason to rub it in.

Several English translations skip past the Greek word epilambonomai. It means to seize or take hold of. The reason we need to note this is that Jesus touched the man—actually grabbed him. We know he could heal from a distance, but here he wants the Pharisees to see him working.

His point?

So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to thatMSG

Human’s troubles are more important to God than having us rest one day a week. As we learned last month with the Good Samaritan, we are to be good neighbors to everyone in need, and when they are in need.

That lesson was not enough for Jesus this time. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him.” ESV

How does this connect to the healing? Both involve loving God and loving our neighbors. As we should help the needy when we can, we should assume an attitude of servitude. Jesus, knowing himself to be the Son of God, (almost) never claimed the rank; instead took on the role of a servant.

What Jesus said next is stunning and is still stunning today. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner party, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or relations or wealthy neighbours, for the chances are they will invite you back, and you will be fully repaid. No, when you give a party, invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind. That way lies real happiness for you. they have no means of repaying you, but you will be repaid when good men are rewarded—at the resurrection.” Phillips

Don’t take this as limited to dinner parties. A dinner party for us is anything we can do to help those in need.

God has invited all humans to his great Wedding Feast. His messengers, starting with John and Jesus, have been spreading the Good News. All we need to do is show up. No presents required.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here, and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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