I’m loving how offensive Jesus was to the religious authorities of his day. He comes from Nazareth, his disciples are nobodies, he talks to a Samaritan and makes one a hero of his story, he eats with the wrong people, he turns water into wine and then he dies a miserable shameful death. However, one of the key things that Jesus did to show his rebellion to the former way of doing things and to rock people into thinking differently was healing on the sabbath. Robert Capon in Between Noon and Three explains a bit more about the idea of healing on the sabbath which you can read there starting from page 140. However, I’m going to try to explain this in my own terms because I feel like this is important to understand.
Healing on the sabbath seems to me to be a useless move by Jesus in terms of his career. He probably could have waited till the next day to do the healings and save the headache of the Pharisees having a melt down. But he deliberately pisses them off. This wasn’t just some command that Jesus was breaking by healing on the Sabbath either, this was a law that the Pharisees held with utmost respect that went all the way back to the first chapters of Genesis. Here is the problem.
Jesus was trying to introduce something that was entirely different than what people were ready to hear. The problem is, even if Jesus was to give the people listening all this new and great information, the only way these people are able to comprehend it is through their old way of thinking. It’s like trying to teach someone the history of your country when they don’t even speak your language. So they sit their and listen intently and they pick up on similar words to their own language. They take all these similar sounding words and come up with an understanding of what you were saying. Odds are they will get it totally wrong. As Capon puts it, “even if the teacher’s audience were to try earnestly to take it in, the only intellectual devices they would have to pick it up with are the categories of the old system with which is conflicts.” So if Jesus was to explain his message even remotely similar or in the same vein as their current way of thinking, they will only be able to understand it insofar that what he is saying agrees with the old way of thinking.
If Jesus was to wait to heal this man, the Pharisees would have viewed and placed the miracle into a system that made sense and that they already knew. As Capon puts it, “if they had then tried to put a messianic interpretation on it, they would have envisioned Jesus as the kind of Messiah they were ready for (a victorious and immortal one) and not the kind he knew himself to be (a suffering and dying one).” Jesus needed to rock their world a little bit and do something completely out of their realm of thinking. He needed to offend them, and do things that were unimaginable so they didn’t get the wrong idea and misinterpret him as their version of the messiah.
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the point was never to make it ok and disregard all the laws of the Sabbath as if they are useless and don’t mean anything. The point was to remind us who was Lord over the Sabbath and to usher in a new way of looking at the world.
Jesus can’t be sensitive to their sensibilities. If he did, he would be giving their formal worldviews to much room to breath and read too much into what he is doing. I don’t even think I’m that bad when it comes to shocking people with crazy ideas, yet time after time again I’m cautioned to be careful at how far I take it because of how many people are listening to me. I wonder what are today’s versions of healing on the Sabbath. What do you think?