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Jesus’ warning in Luke 12 and 13 opened a new line of thought in the next few chapters, where Jesus distinguishes between those having genuine faith and those with hypocritical claims to faith. He distinguishes these two kinds of people by a series of teachings, many of which are in the form of parables.
First, however, Jesus asserts His authority as the divine Judge by issuing a divine court ruling in regard to healing on the Sabbath. Luke 14:1-3 says,
1 And it came about when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching Him closely. 2 And there, in front of Him was a certain man suffering from dropsy. 3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?
Perhaps the key to understanding this situation is in the fact that Jesus not only “spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees,” but He actually “answered” them. Luke tells us that Jesus went to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees for dinner, but he records no conversation prior to when He “answered” them. In fact, it does not say that Jesus asked them, nor did He even propose a question, but rather that He “answered” them.
The Greek word translated “answered” is apokrinomai. The main part of the word is krino, the Greek word for Judgment. Gesenius Lexicon tells us that it means “to begin to speak, but always where something has preceded (either said or done) to which the remarks refer.”
In the expanded definition on the same page, it says that the word means “to part, separate,” and “to give sentence against one.” In other words, Jesus was rendering the divine court’s decision (krino, “judgment”) to the legal question of Sabbath healing.
The question of Sabbath healing had already been raised and was on people’s minds in previous situations. In Luke 6:8-11, Jesus healed on the Sabbath but gave no divine court ruling. He merely posed the question of whether or not it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, and then He enraged the Pharisees by healing the man with the withered hand.
In Luke 13:15, after healing the woman who had been bent double for eighteen years, Jesus “answered” the objection of the synagogue official from verse 14. In this case the answer was an immediate response in a localized setting. Even though He answered it with reference to the divine law, it was not strictly a divine court ruling, but only a personal ruling in an individual case.
Jesus answer in Luke 14:3 should be translated, not as a question, but as an assertion of fact. The Greek language at that time had no punctuation, so the translators must decide if a statement is a question or not. In this case it should read, “It is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day.” The final words in the NASB, “or not,” were added by the translators, who had assumed that Jesus was posing a question.
The healed man had been suffering from dropsy. The Greek word is hydropikos, “looking watery, or appearing to have water retention.” Dr. Luke was using the medical term of his day. Inasmuch as one of Luke’s purposes was to heal breaches, this miracle of healing resulted in a divine court ruling that was meant to settle this issue and to bring unity and clarity to the law and men’s way of life.
The problem, of course, is that men do not always agree with God or His sentences in the divine court. A divine court ruling calls for sinners to repent. Those who disagree with God ought to change their opinions to align with the mind of Christ. Often, however, sinners refuse to agree with the divine court, even as so many disagree with judges in our earthly courts.
Jesus’ ruling was designed to assert the rights of the sick to obtain divine healing on the Sabbath. Because the sick are victims of Adam’s sin, the original source of sickness and death, this was part of the Law of Victims Rights. It was not simply about Jesus’ right to heal. When the Pharisees denied the people that right, they violated the rights of the sick and thereby caused a breach—an injustice—that needed to be healed. The lawyers and Pharisees remained silent at Jesus’ ruling in the divine court, but Jesus then addressed them in Luke 14:5, 6,
5 And He said to them, “Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” 6 And they could make no reply to this.
This is similar to a previous question Jesus posed in Luke 13:15,
15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to water him?”
In both cases, Jesus referred to the law in Deut. 22:4, which commanded us to help a neighbor’s donkey or ox that may have “fallen down.” Apparently, it was well established already that this law referred to animals that had fallen into a well or pit, rather than simply collapsing by the road under the weight of a load.
The main difference between the two references in Luke is that in Luke 13:15 Jesus spoke of a man’s “ox and his donkey,” whereas in Luke 14:5 Jesus spoke of “a son or an ox.” It is plain that Jesus believed that helping animals was part of the same law of love that mandated helping one’s own son. The letter of the law spoke only of animals, but the spirit of the law applied also to people.