Another Sabbath Healing Controversy (14:1-6)

In another sabbath setting, Jesus continues to evidence God's presence yet faces the leadership's rejection. Even after all the warnings, Jesus' healings fail to bring a change of heart. Eyes controlled by sin are stubborn in refusing to see and respond to God's hand. The meal setting of this text extends through 14:24. But this is not an ordinary dinner party, nor is the conversation normal table talk. On the menu is theological and ideological reflection about what God is doing.

As Jesus dines with the Pharisees, the religious leaders are watching him. Luke's noting of this is no idle remark. The phrase used for carefully watched means to watch surreptitiously and ominously (esan parateroumenoi; Riesenfeld 1972:147), rather as an undercover agent would today. The suspicion is deep, the mood somber. At the meal is a man with dropsy, which means his limbs are swollen with excess body fluids—a condition much discussed in later Judaism and associated with uncleanness and immorality (Midras Rabbah Leviticus 15:2; Strack and Billerbeck 1926:2:203; van der Loos 1965:504-6). Jesus does not shy away from the situation. He asks whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.

Having had experience with this predicament, the leaders remain silent. And Jesus heals the man. After sending the man away, Jesus notes, as he did in the healing in 13:10-17, that they would quickly offer aid to a son or even an ox that had fallen in the ditch on the sabbath.

A softer, more lenient version of the sabbath law appears much later in the Talmud (c. A.D. 500), alongside a contrary, harsher opinion (t. Sabbat 128b). That source allows exceptions for pulling an animal out of a pit, while the harsh ruling argues that all one can do is place food in the pit for the animal until the sabbath has passed.

The leaders' silence continues. Nothing has been learned; nothing has been confessed. Despite a constant barrage of divine activity, their position has not changed. The passage confirms how strong sin's stubbornness can be. It also shows how even after warnings about judgment and its consequences, God graciously still gives evidence of his presence. His grace still reveals itself, but closed eyes can never see the evidence of God's power. The division between Jesus and religiosity remains, and so does the question of which way we will choose if we want to know God.

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