One Shabbat Yeshua went to eat in the home of one of the leading P’rushim, and they were watching him closely. 2 In front of him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. 3 Yeshua spoke up and asked the Torah experts and P’rushim, “Does the Torah allow healing on Shabbat or not?” 4 But they said nothing. So, taking hold of him, he healed him and sent him away. 5 To them he said, “Which of you, if a son or an ox falls into a well, will hesitate to haul him out on Shabbat?” 6 And to these things they could give no answer.
With this story, which appears only in this Gospel, Luke begins a section in which he show Jesus teaching about the meaning of shared meals. It is a theme largely represented in the Torah, especially in the Feast of Passover and the expectation of the banquet of the Messiah in the time of God’s Rule.
It begins quietly enough with Jesus accepting hospitality from a Pharisee. Although he knew of their opposition Jesus did not treat them as enemies, but was happy to be a guest, thereby honouring his host by his presence. It’s not clear from Luke’s narrative whether he means that the invitation was itself part of a plot. In any case, Jesus soon puts his host to the test: receiving Jesus means sharing his ministry to the needy. Luke does not explain why the sick man is present, but he shows Jesus’ immediate response to him. In effect Jesus asks, “Can God’s good gifts be shared on Shabbat?” and when his opponents refuse an answer, Jesus gives his answer by healing the man. Jesus “takes hold of” the man while his opponents stand off from him.
Jesus’ justification of his healing on Shabbat is interesting. He doesn’t simply claim authority from God but argues his case as a Rabbi would by reminding his hearers of the Torah’s exemption for works of necessity or mercy. Doubtless the Pharisees would have argued that it wouldn’t have done the man any harm to wait until Shabbat was over. Jesus suggests that if it was their child or their bull they wouldn’t hang around. In response to human need, Jesus suggests, we should do what we can as soon as we can. Neither the rules of sharing bread nor the rules of the Torah are intended to exclude the needy, for God’s goodness is available to all at all times.
The liberating common sense of Jesus’ view exposes the daftness of an interpretation of God’s teaching that places a barrier between God’s goodness and human need. Only in the name of religion could such nonsense be given house room.
Jesus’ robust readiness to do whatever good he can, is a perpetual challenge to human and especially religious hard -heartedness. Of course, the bible tradition presents Jesus as a healer who was able to expel the “spirit” which bound the person to illness, so that healing could happen. In the Bible he is shown as able to heal instantaneously, which seems unlikely to me. But the important thing is the Gospels’ united witness to Jesus’ effective attention to human health.