Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Do you remember the childhood worksheet activity where you looked at two “identical” pictures and had to find the differences? I always struggled with those. I’d scour the pictures and circle every difference imaginable, only to discover I was still supposed to find several more.
Unfortunately, scouring other people for inconsistencies and faults comes much more naturally than finding the differences between pictures. It’s part of our sinful nature to want to tear others down and find their faults.
The Pharisees in particular were really good at this. Instead of using the law to draw people into relationship with God, they used it to create distance between people and God, weighing people down with additional regulations they couldn’t possibly follow.
Jesus hated how the Pharisees used the law as a weapon against people. He loved and valued people, including a man at the synagogue on a particular Sabbath whose hand was paralyzed. Unlike the Pharisees, who would never dream of lifting a hand to help someone if it interfered with their perfect observance of the law, Jesus was very interested in helping this man.
As Trent C. Butler puts it, “Two mission statements stood diametrically opposed: the Pharisees’ mission to ensure the observance of the law according to their interpretations and Jesus’ mission to ‘release the oppressed.’”
The laws of Sabbath rest allowed for emergencies, and everyone knew that. Surely, if they had an animal in distress, they would rescue it—Sabbath or not! Jesus wanted the Pharisees, along with the rest of us, to understand that if people are in distress and in need of rescue, and it happens to be the Sabbath, they should be rescued as well. They should be helped.
I grew up in Minnesota, where snow, ice, and blizzards in the winter are the norm. On one particular Sunday, as my dad drove home from church slowly through the blowing snow our car slid off the road and into the ditch. There we sat, in subzero temperatures, stuck.
After only a couple of minutes, some members of our church drove by and spotted our car. They could’ve said to themselves, “That’s too bad about that family in the ditch, but it is the day of rest, so we’d better get home.”
Of course, they didn’t do that! They stopped their car, got the chain out of the trunk, and pulled us out. They recognized that helping someone in need was important and honored God, even if it was on Sunday.
There’s a reason the account of Jesus healing the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath is included in three of the four Gospels. He intends for us to help people in distress, instead of focusing on coldly carrying out the letter of the law. Without love, the apostle Paul tells us, our righteous acts are noisy and obnoxious (1 Corinthians 13:1).
When you see someone who needs your help, do you turn away because you’re “not called” to help them? Perhaps you’ve helped enough people already, or maybe you have other plans for your afternoon or your money.
While it’s true that we shouldn’t wear ourselves out to the point we’re no good to anyone, we should also be willing to love, help, and give, just as much as we’re willing to follow the Ten Commandments. It’s a lot harder to sacrificially love than to commit obligatory good deeds, but that’s what Jesus expects from His followers, and it was what He Himself was willing to do as well.
 Holman New Testament Commentary: Luke. 2000 (91). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- What people or situations tend to ask for your help when it’s inconvenient? How do you respond?
- How do you think Jesus would respond?
- There will always be people who legitimately need your help. How do you find the balance between showing the love of Christ to others who need it, and taking the Sabbath rest you need?
- Whom do you more closely resemble: the Pharisees, who kept the law at the people’s expense, or Jesus, who always loved the people and recognized their needs, no matter who was waiting or what day it was? What will you change today to more closely resemble Jesus?