Did you know that Jesus exemplified righteous Sabbath behavior by healing a crippled woman? In fact, He used a very special term in referring to her: “daughter of Abraham.” Only Luke’s gospel describes this particular healing event, as Luke paid special attention to stories involving women related to Jesus’ ministry. This article will examine the account of this “daughter of Abraham,” found in Luke 13:10–17, which provides a vital lesson in properly observing God’s Sabbath.
A Sabbath Miracle
We find that Jesus “was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath” (v. 10), as it was customary to invite visiting teachers to deliver the sermon after the reading from the biblical scrolls. While Jesus was preaching, He noticed “a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up” (v. 11). Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14), and the Greek word translated “bent” is, appropriately, a medical term—one indicating curvature of the spine, as if this woman were doubled over from carrying a heavy burden.
Upon seeing her, Jesus immediately set her free from her infirmity by laying His hands on her to heal and straighten her (Luke 13:12–13). The touch of the Master’s hand gave her the help and encouragement she needed to stand up straight. Once she did, she broke into praise of God (v. 13).
The ruler of the synagogue, who should have rejoiced with her, criticized Jesus for healing her on the Sabbath. “There are six days on which men ought to work,” he said to the audience, “therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (v. 14).
This ruler clearly considered healing a type of work forbidden on the Sabbath, but Jesus retorted that the law permitted the loosing of one’s animals on the Sabbath for proper feeding and watering (v. 15) and then asked a pointed question: “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (v. 16).
Verse 17 displays contrasting responses to this healing: “And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” The synagogue ruler had tried to publicly shame the woman and Jesus, but Jesus turned the tables on him, defending His breathtaking miracle in front of everyone. The critics of this daughter of Abraham’s healing were shamed before the congregation as their rules of Sabbath observance were shown to be ungodly.
A Lesson in Loosing Burdens
As we have seen, Jesus referred to this woman as “a daughter of Abraham.” This was deliberate, because the term “son of Abraham” was used commonly to stress the worth of men as members of the covenant community. However, the title “daughter of Abraham” was virtually unknown, because women were not seen as citizens of the nation, but rather as members of their individual families. Many regarded women as less important than men.
By contrast, Jesus used this exalted title to stress that this was a woman in the covenant community—God’s highly favored, elect people. She, too, was a descendant of the great patriarch Abraham. Attending Sabbath services despite her 18 years of suffering indicates that she was a firm believer in the God of Abraham who had made a covenant with her people. The Messiah considered her a fitting recipient of His blessing.
Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater—how much more worthy of help was a suffering human being compared to an animal? Both helping animals and helping human beings should be permitted on God’s Sabbath as acts of mercy. Jesus, as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), knew how the day should be observed—but His critics did not accept Him as the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, the One who had created the Sabbath.
The Jews of Jesus’ day commonly believed that suffering was always the result of sin. Yet no sin is connected to the suffering of this daughter of Abraham. Instead, Jesus said that Satan had bound this woman with a physical illness. He gave no reason as to why Satan had done so or why God had permitted it, as He had permitted Satan’s afflicting of the patriarch Job. For Jesus, handicaps were opportunities for God to display His power, and Jesus displayed complete mastery over demons, sickness, and disease during His ministry.
What better day could there have been for this miracle than God’s Sabbath? Sabbath observance is not intended as a ritualistic burden, but as a blessing, as Jesus explained: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Some Sabbath-keepers become so legalistic in their observance that they forget the Sabbath’s original intent: to provide rest, rejoicing, refreshment, and renewal during this holy time.
The Sabbath should be enjoyed for its created purpose, and we should take care that, as we strive to obey God’s commands, we do not add to those commands with our own. If the Sabbath ever feels more like a burden than a blessing, we should deeply examine not only our attitude toward it, but also the way that we observe it—which, if we are not careful, may involve more of our rules than God’s rules!