Works of Mercy

Sabbath Study, Part 23

The preceding incident (Matthew 12:1-8) is immediately followed by another “Sabbath encounter” Jesus had with the Pharisees:

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. (Matthew 12:9-13)

When He had departed from there.
Jesus went into the synagogue on the same day of the previous incident (see Mt. 12:1-8), but it appears that He stayed there—or in the vicinity—for at least a week before this particular instance occurred (see Mr. 3:1, Lk. 6:6).

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
Jewish law allowed for medical treatment only if a man’s life was in danger. Other acts of healing were forbidden. The nuances of these man-made Sabbath laws had reached outlandish levels of self-contradiction. For example, according to John Gill, spice could not be rubbed against the teeth as a healing agent, but the same spice could be used without limitation in eating. This shows that the Jews had lost sight of the purpose of the Sabbath—for the benefit of man, not to place a needlessly heavy yoke upon him.

How much more value then is a man than a sheep?
If it is allowable to show mercy to sheep (and other animals) on the Sabbath, how much more allowable should it be for us to provide aid for our neighbor in time of need?

From this story, we learn that the Sabbath law allows for “works of mercy” (as church leaders have often called them) in addition to works of necessity. When we come across someone in need on the Sabbath, it is more than lawful to provide help.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by John Gill