Jesus of Galilee
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," said the fourth commandment as brought by Moses. And later on was written the severe admonishment: "Every one that defileth the Sabbath shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done, but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord."
It is not certain that anyone was ever subjected to the death penalty, but observance of the Sabbath was highly important, unique among the Jews. It had become a day set aside for religious observance and assembly in the synagogue, and the forerunner of our Christian Sabbath services, though the Sabbath is now usually celebrated on Sunday, the Sun's day; while that of the Jews was on Saturday, or Saturn's day, literally the seventh day of the week. The Hebrew word for Saturn is Shabbathai.
Observance of the Sabbath was one of the special marks of Judaism that distinguished them from the Gentiles. The rabbis, over the years, had worked out rules concerning what they thought should be restricted on the Sabbath, and this included such things as prohibiting the lighting of a fire, visiting of the sick, clapping the hands, or jumping, etc.
Reaping was one of the taboos, so that there was a dispute as to whether one could eat an apple which had fallen from the tree on Saturday. It was this rule that caused the Pharisees concern when they saw Jesus and his disciples in the wheat field.
Sabbath laws had grown so strict that a fighting man who was a pious Jew would not even take up arms in self defense on the Sabbath, nor yet negotiate for peace. The Sabbath required abstinence from any effort and activity.
The distance which one was allowed to walk on the Sabbath was called "a Sabbath day's journey," and amounted to a distance of some three-fifths of one mile (originally 2,000 cubits, which is some 3,000 feet).
Such regulations were the meat of the Pharisees' religious principles. It was the Pharisees who kept such laws alive and spent their time disputing them. Jesus brought a new declaration, to free men from the accumulation of such binding restrictions which had outgrown their usefulness: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
There is also an incident in one of the old manuscripts which says, "Seeing a man laboring on the Sabbath, Jesus said to him, 'Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou: but if thou knowest not, accursed art thou and a transgressor of the Law." In other words, one must not go about carelessly breaking laws, for no justifiable reason.
By this time the popularity of Jesus had put the scribes and Pharisees on the alert, and unable as yet to form a definite judgment of this new prophet, they began to watch him, coming even from Jerusalem and from the towns of Galilee and Judea; and as yet they were not aggressive.
When they heard Jesus explanation of why his disciples did not fast, they must have understood they could expect nothing from the new rabbi, for he would never associate himself with the school of any of the teachers of tradition. Still they continued to shadow him with growing attention to his digressions in these respects.
One Sabbath they caught him and his disciples picking off grain to eat as they crossed a field. This was not theft, according to their Law which allowed anyone to glean from the fields, but it was in violation of the Sabbath, for reaping was one of the thirty- nine categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath.
The Scriptures describe it thus. One Sabbath day he was going through the grain fields; his disciples were hungry, and as they made their way they began to pluck ears of grain, and rubbing them in their hands they would loosen the grains to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to them, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?"
And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?
"Or have you not read in the law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless." And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."
And on another Sabbath he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And the Scribes and Pharisees watched him to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts and he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And the man came and stood by Jesus.
Then the Pharisees asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep?
And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored whole like the other. The Pharisees went out, filled with fury and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, and discussed with one another how they might destroy him.
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there, and many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. Then he took the man and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, "Which of you, having an ass or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, and she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your infirmity."
And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day."
Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?"
As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at the many glorious things that were done by him.
On one of his trips to Jerusalem, at the time of a festival, Jesus offended the Jews there for much the same reason. He was at a pool called Bethzatha or Bethseda, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. This pool had five porches, and in these lay a great many invalids, blind, lame and paralyzed, waiting for the movement of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever stepped in just after the troubling of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.
One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going, another steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed and took up his bed and began to walk (The bed common in that time was just a bedroll or a mat, easy to fold up and carry away.)
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet." But he answered them, "The man who healed me said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.' " They asked him, "Who is the man who told you to take up your bed and walk?"
Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you are made whole! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And for this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did these works on the Sabbath.
But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working." For this reason the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.