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What Is Lawful on the Sabbath?

What Is Lawful on the Sabbath?

MATTHEW 12:9-14 MARK 3:1-6 LUKE 6:6-11


On another Sabbath, Jesus visits a synagogue, likely in Galilee. There he finds a man whose right hand is withered. (Luke 6:6) The scribes and the Pharisees are watching Jesus closely. Why? They reveal what their real intent is when they ask: “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?”​—Matthew 12:10.

The Jewish religious leaders believe that healing is lawful on the Sabbath only if life is in danger. Thus, for example, on the Sabbath it is unlawful to set a bone or bandage a sprain, conditions that are not life threatening. Clearly the scribes and the Pharisees are not questioning Jesus because they feel genuine concern for this poor man’s suffering. They are trying to find a pretext for condemning Jesus.

Jesus, however, knows their twisted reasoning. He realizes that they have adopted an extreme, unscriptural view of what constitutes a violation of the prohibition against doing work on the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8-10) He has already faced such misplaced criticism of his good works. Now Jesus sets the stage for a dramatic confrontation by telling the man with the withered hand: “Get up and come to the center.”​—Mark 3:3.

Turning to the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus says: “If you have one sheep and that sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, is there a man among you who will not grab hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11) A sheep represents a financial investment, so they would not leave it in the pit until the next day; it might die in the meantime and thus cause them loss. Besides, the Scriptures say: “The righteous one takes care of his domestic animals.”​—Proverbs 12:10.

Drawing a reasonable parallel, Jesus continues: “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do a fine thing on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:12) Accordingly, Jesus would not be violating the Sabbath by healing the man. The religious leaders are unable to refute such logical, compassionate reasoning. They just remain silent.

With indignation, as well as grief at their misguided thinking, Jesus looks around. Then he says to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” (Matthew 12:13) As the man stretches out his withered hand, it is restored. That is a cause for joy for the man, but how does it affect those trying to trap Jesus?

Instead of being happy that the man’s hand is restored, the Pharisees go out and immediately conspire “with the party followers of Herod against [Jesus], in order to kill him.” (Mark 3:6) This political party evidently includes members of the religious group called the Sadducees. Ordinarily, the Sadducees and the Pharisees are opposed to each other, but now they are solidly united in their opposition to Jesus.