There are six distinct stories in the Gospels which are variations on a common theme: The Pharisees see Jesus doing something on the Sabbath which they consider to be unlawful. They criticize Him for it, and in response, He teaches them about the true meaning of the Sabbath. Here are the stories:
|Reference(s)||Story||Pharisees’ criticism||Jesus’ response|
|Matthew 12:1-9, Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5||1. Jesus’ disciples pluck grain as they walk through a field on the Sabbath.||“Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.”||Gave two scriptural examples to show that rigid rules don’t always fit the circumstances, then taught these two principles:|
1. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
2. “The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.”
|Matthew 12:10-13, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11||2. Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.||“They asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.”||“Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?”|
|Luke 13:10-17||3. Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath.||“There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.”||“Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?|
“And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”
|Luke 14:1-6||4. Jesus heals a man with the dropsy (edema) on the Sabbath.||Jesus asked them if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. “They held their peace.”||“Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?”|
|John 5:1-18, John 7:22-24||5. Jesus heals a man at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and tells him to carry his bed and walk.||“It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.”||“If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?”|
|John 9:1-16||6. Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath.||“This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day.”||[The man who was healed replies]: “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”|
It’s striking to me that there are so many stories with the same pattern: The Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a sabbath-breaker. Jesus responds that they don’t understand what it means to keep the Sabbath. Here is my summary of the principles He taught:
- God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit. Keeping the Sabbath should be a delight, not a hardship.
- Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Doing His work on the Sabbath is always appropriate.
- Serving others and helping those in need are appropriate activities for the Sabbath.
Another valuable element of Sabbath observance is gathering with other believers. After organizing the church at the waters of Mormon, Alma emphasized the importance of meeting with other church members at least weekly:
He commanded them that they should observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, and also every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God….
And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.Mosiah 18:23, 25
And Moroni explained that meeting regularly was an important practice in the church Jesus established during His ministry on the American continent:
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus….
And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.Moroni 6:5-6, 9
Today, I will strive to observe the Sabbath according to the Savior’s teaching. I will strive to make it a joyful day in which I do God’s work and bless other people. I will attend church meetings in order to uplift and strengthen other church members and be strengthened by them. I will avoid the temptation to be overly rigid about rules of Sabbath observance and will instead strive to follow principles Jesus taught about how to make the Sabbath a holy day.
I’d never thought of comparing the New Testament accounts showing the
Pharisees targeting Jesus as breaking the Sabbath day and how he
answered them. It was most illuminating and so were the principles you
drew from these examples. I not only greatly enjoyed the specific
conclusion, Paul, but also for the insights into productive ways to
study the scriptures. You’re a great teacher, Paul.
Thank you for the kind words, Lavina! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.