Yeshua's Strangest Sabbath Healing

Yeshua's Strangest Sabbath Healing FFOZ



One of the issues of Jewish law on which Yeshua clashed most often with the Pharisees was the question of whether it was permissible to heal on the Sabbath. In most cases, these arguments centered around an incident of miraculous healing—Yeshua merely touched a person or said a few words. However, in one instance, Yeshua went so far as to apply conventional (at least, according to first-century science) medical treatment on the Sabbath:

When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes. (John 9:6)

Mixing two substances to form a third is a violation of the Sabbath; applying salve is also a violation of the Sabbath. The rabbis did allow for an exception to the rule. Everyone agreed that the preservation of life takes precedence over the Sabbath. The rabbis permitted setting aside most of the commandments, even the Sabbath prohibitions, to save a human life. Life takes precedence over the commandments because the Torah says, “you shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), not “die by them.” Therefore, the sages derive that it is permissible to violate the Sabbath to save a life:

A man may profane one Sabbath, so that he may live to keep many Sabbaths. Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmu’el, “If I had been there, I would have proved it [is permissible to break the Sabbath to save a life] with a better passage yet: ‘He shall live by them.’” (Talmud)

Therefore, everyone agreed that healings should be permitted in the case of life-threatening conditions but not in the absence of an immediate threat to life. Rabbi Yeshua disagreed. He believed that compassion for human beings takes precedence over ceremonial prohibitions, even in the absence of an immediate threat to life. A discussion from the Talmud illustrates the issues involved in the story of the blind man of John 9. The rabbis argue about whether an eye condition is serious enough to warrant setting aside the Sabbath prohibition to apply a medical salve. According to one opinion, the salve could be applied only if someone had already prepared and brought the herbal medicines prior to the Sabbath. A second opinion states that grinding the medicines and carrying them on the Sabbath is permissible for the sake of treating an inflamed eye. Not everyone agreed with this second opinion. Another rabbi said, “Anyone who acts according to this opinion breaks the Sabbath!” Ironically, sometime later, the same rabbi suffered from an inflamed eye on the Sabbath. He asked the other rabbis if treating his eye on the Sabbath was forbidden (bound) or permitted (loosed). They replied, “For everyone else, it is permitted—but for you, it is forbidden.” Rav Yehudah told a story about why preparing and administering medicine for a sore eye should be permitted even on the Sabbath:

It once happened to a maidservant in Mar Shmu’el’s house that her eye became inflamed on a Sabbath. She cried, but no one attended her [because of the Sabbath prohibitions] and her eye burst. The very next day, Mar Shmu’el went out and taught that if one’s eye gets out of order it is permissible to apply salve even on the Sabbath.” (b.Avodah Zarah 28b)

The Talmud goes on to justify Sabbath-day eye treatments on the basis that an inflamed eye might cause a threat to one’s life. “What is the reason it is loosed?” the sages asked. Because the eye condition might develop into a more serious matter which constitutes a threat to life, and therefore its treatment takes precedence over the Sabbath as a matter of saving a life. Nevertheless, all agreed that this exception to the rule did not apply to a pre-existing condition, nor could medicine be prepared and applied to an eye on the Sabbath simply to improve one’s vision. Had Rabbi Yeshua been party to the conversation, He would have disagreed on that point. As discussed in previous comments on the Sabbath conflicts, Rabbi Yeshua often used the Hosea 6:6 passage to teach that compassion for human beings takes precedence over ceremonial prohibitions, even when a man’s malady or disability poses no immediate threat to life:

For I delight in [compassion, (chesed)] rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Rabbi Yeshua reminded the rabbis of His day that the Temple service, with its sacrifices and burnt offerings, takes priority over the Sabbath (Matthew 12:5). Since compassion for one’s fellow human being should take priority over the Temple sacrifices, and the Temple sacrifices take priority over the Sabbath, then compassion must also take priority over the Sabbath. He taught that since the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath, the alleviation of human suffering supersedes the Sabbath prohibitions. This explains why the Master used the spittle, the mud, and the immersion to heal the blind man on the Sabbath. As mentioned above, He could have dispensed with all of that and simply touched the man’s eyes or spoken a word to heal him. Instead, He chose to apply a medical treatment such as a first-century doctor might have done. He chose to deliberately step over the boundaries of Sabbath law for the sake of healing the man, and He chose to do so in a manner that any disciple of His might emulate. If He had never used a conventional, medical means to heal on the Sabbath, we might have supposed that Sabbath-day healings are permissible only so long as they are of a completely miraculous nature. By making the mud, smearing it on the man’s eyes, and telling the blind man to wash it out of his eyes, the Master demonstrated that one may prepare and administer medical treatments on the Sabbath even if they are not miraculous.

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