On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
—Luke 13:10-17, NIV
Many people see Jesus as an innovator, who shows a new way that was rejected by the authorities, but today’s reading in Luke shows that that is not the case.
It was the Sabbath, and Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. One of the women in attendance had been crippled for eighteen years and was unable to stand upright. Jesus healed her. The synagogue president rebuked Jesus, reminding Him that there were six days to do work each week, so there was no call to work on the Sabbath.
The Jewish Law prohibits work on the Sabbath, but it does not define what work is. So whether Jesus was actually working on the Sabbath is a matter of rabbinical tradition and interpretation. Jesus reminds the elder that tradition does not consider it work to lead a donkey or an ox to water on the Sabbath. This tradition probably derives from the fact that the Law explicitly permits a person to pull an ox from a ditch on the Sabbath. Jesus, arguing the Law against tradition, maintains that the woman is more valuable than a donkey, thus healing her on the Sabbath is no offense. The elder is defeated and the people cheer.
Jesus sees Himself as reintroducing the substance and purpose of the Law, which rabbinical tradition had defeated. “It was not that way in the beginning,” He says. The purpose of the Law, according to Jesus, is to serve us by helping us love God and our neighbor. Rabbinical tradition places a ‘hedge’ around the Law prohibiting more than the Law prohibits so the Law is protected from any offense. The result is a complicated web of technicalities and prohibitions that have no actual basis in the Law; they form a huge burden which no one can carry and which only causes hypocrisy or guilt. Instead of the Law serving people, people end up slaves to the Law.
Jesus warned against the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees that puffs up the Law into a burden too big and heavy for anyone to carry.
In each case where Jesus had a dispute with the authorities about the Law, they argued from tradition, while He argues from the Law itself.
Eventually, Jesus fulfilled all the Law by becoming a sacrifice that could pay the Law’s penalty for all possible infractions. Those who trust in Him and thereby avail themselves of the benefit of His sacrifice are freed from the demands of the Law; for they die with Him; and the Law does not have jurisdiction over dead people. They rise with Him to a new life of gratefully serving God in love.
Under the Law, we worked in order to have salvation, but we could not work enough to attain it. Under Jesus, we work out of gratitude for the salvation that has already been given to us in His grace.