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Praying about Jesus’s healings: Jesus heals on the Sabbath

Lynne Baab • Wednesday June 5 2024

Praying about Jesus’s healings: Jesus heals on the Sabbath

A woman is bent over. Maybe from osteoporosis? Jesus heals her on the Sabbath day, and some of the Jewish leaders who see the healing get mad at Jesus. He has “worked” on the Sabbath! Jesus replies, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:10-17). I often feel bent over with worries and stress. Sometimes my back goes out, and I am physically bent over for a few days. I identify with the woman in the story, and I truly love Jesus’s words about her. I love the language of being set free from bondage on the Sabbath.

Jesus conflicts with the Jewish leaders six times about the Sabbath, and five of the conflicts about the Sabbath between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders centered around healings:

There was no real need for Jesus to perform these healings on the Sabbath. None of the people was dying; none of them had an urgent medical condition. Jesus was teaching through his actions that the Sabbath is a day of liberation, a day where people return to the joy of the world the way God created it.

Jesus asks the Jewish religious leaders, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). He points out that Jewish law permitted people to take care of animals on the Sabbath. How much more would God desire that a daughter of Abraham be set free from Satan’s bondage on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15, 16). Jesus questions the crowd: if an ox or a child fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t they pull that child or ox out? (Luke 14:5). God, he says, desires mercy and not sacrifice (Matt. 12:7).

For Jesus, the Sabbath was a day to do good, show mercy, save life, and set people free from bondage. These acts, appropriate for the Sabbath, spoke of God’s nature: a merciful God, the God who heals, the God who delivers people from evil. Acts that glorify God can never be a breach of the Sabbath.

In Mark 2:27, in the argument with the Jewish religious leaders about his disciples picking grain, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is to be a gift to us, not something to which we slavishly try to conform.

I want to suggest two directions for prayer based on these miracles. First, if you keep any form of a Sabbath, is it a way of being set free from bondage for you? Could you pray and think creatively about adding more forms of freedom to your day? Stop trying to get “just this one thing” done? Let go of worry? Avoid news or other media that raise your anxiety? Refuse to think about stressors? Put your phone aside? Figure out places in nature that give you a sense of freedom?

Jesus’s healings on the Sabbath reveal profound truths about our God who created and sustains us, who showers us with mercy, heals us, and delivers us from evil. It can be fruitful to ponder and pray about how and where to experience the God of freedom and joy on a Sabbath day or even a brief Sabbath moment.

A second direction for prayer will probably be relevant to some of you but not all. Do you tend to become legalistic about rules or commands, forgetting the purpose and focusing on the details? Are you rigid with yourself or with others, setting high standards that sometimes crush you? Jesus’s healings on the Sabbath can be a beacon to you, helping you see that what always matters is God’s character and love, not the rules we obey.

The Hebrew Scriptures are clear about the importance of the Sabbath day, and by Jesus’s time, Sabbath rules had been codified into 39 actions that the Jewish people were not supposed to do. This came from good intentions, but Jesus broke up the rigidity of the rules. Jesus did not dispute the significance of the Sabbath. His conflicts about the Sabbath with the Jewish religious leaders of his time were confined to what is appropriate behavior on the Sabbath or, to look at the bigger issue, the question of what the Sabbath reflects about God to the people who observe it.

God our Creator and Sustainer, you know the kinds of rest we need. Help us embrace rest from labor in ways that let us experience your goodness, mercy, and freedom. You know about those moments when we take rules and guidelines too seriously, and we are harsh on ourselves and others. Help us know deep in our hearts the hugeness of your grace to us.

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Next week: Jesus heals 5,000 people. Illustration by Dave Baab: A view from Lake Alexandrina, New Zealand, perhaps Mount Dobson? Any New Zealand readers know this view? Please let me know if you do. 

Most of this post is an excerpt from my most popular book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest (the paperback is on sale right now at amazon, also available for kindle and audiobook). I also wrote a Bible study guide, Sabbath: the Gift of Rest. You can access articles I’ve written about the Sabbath here, and blog posts about the Sabbath here. Two of my favorite articles are:

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