Is It Lawful on the Sabbath to Save Life of Destroy It?


“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9

On the Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching. He saw a man whose right hand was withered. Jesus knew the scribes and Pharisees were watching him, waiting to see if he would heal on the Sabbath so that they could accuse him of breaking the law. So, Jesus called the man with the withered hand forward and asked a simple question.

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or destroy it?

At least it should be a simple question to answer.

Is it not obvious that doing good is better than doing harm?

Is it not obvious that saving life is better than destroying it?

So, why did the scribes and Pharisees remain silent? Why was it so hard for them to answer this seemingly simple and obvious question?




Keeping traditions, rules, and laws had became the most important thing for them.

Keeping the Sabbath, doing no work on it, was paramount.

Because keeping traditions, rules, and laws was the most important thing, it was easy to rationalize that in some cases it was okay to do harm or destroy life. Perhaps it was easy for the scribes and Pharisees to justify not healing this man in their own minds because he had a withered right hand. In other words, he was not productive. He was a drain on society. He was of no use to them.

Now, you might be saying that just because the scribes and Pharisees did not want to heal on the Sabbath does not mean that they were doing harm to this man or destroying his life. But, the point that Jesus is making is that whenever we see someone in need and do not take action, regardless of the traditions, rules, and laws, then we are doing harm and we are destroying life.

In every situation, we have a choice.

Do good or do harm.

Save life or destroy it.

We are all guilty of this at some point. However, as organizations and institutions grow, they tend to become more beholden to keeping traditions, rules, and laws instead of seeking to do good and to save life regardless of the traditions, rules, and laws.

In this situation, Jesus shows that regardless of the traditions, rules, and laws that he does good, he saves life.

Jesus never does harm. Jesus never destroys life.

In the parallel account of the man with the withered hand in Mark, when the scribes and Pharisees were silent at his question, Jesus looked at them with anger and he was grieved by their hardness of heart.

When traditions, rules, and laws become more important than a man’s life and his healing, it reveals our hardness of heart. Further, it shows that we prefer to do harm rather good, destroy life rather than save it.

Mark 3:6 says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

in John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

They would rather destroy Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, rather than admit to their hardness of heart and do good and save life.

So, the question becomes who are you unwilling to do good to, to save their life, because they are against your traditions, rules, and laws?

Who is unworthy of your love because they break your moral code?

Who is it okay to look past because somewhere in your mind you have deemed them a sinner?

We should not gloss over these questions, thinking, “I don’t do that. I love everyone.”

Instead, we need to seriously examine how our lives, not just our words, are a witness to Jesus’ question. We need to seriously examine the sorts of people that we have a hardness of heart towards thereby justifying not doing good to them and saving their life.

Just because we have become a Christian or say that we follow Jesus does not mean that all of our little biases and prejudices immediately disappear.

So, we need to think deeply about what Jesus is asking.

Does the whole of my life say that doing good and saving life is more important than any moral code, any tradition, any rule, or any law?

Do I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Do I love others as Jesus loves me?

For, Jesus, and therefore God, continually broke the moral codes and traditions, rules, and laws to do good and to save life.


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