[On Sabbath] God Works in Mysterious Ways, Such as on the Sabbath (John 5)

Bible opened to John 5 with Green and Black's Organic Mint Dark Chocolate held between thumb and forefinger

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageJohn 5:1-18

Of course Jesus heals on the other six days of the week. But those healings don’t draw heat like the Sabbath healings do.

John relates an incident where Jesus heals a lame man on the Sabbath. As the healed man is carrying his pallet around, his countrymen confront him on carrying a load, in keeping with the interpretations of “work” that we found in Nehemiah and Jeremiah. Word gets out that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, and when Jesus’ opponents get on his case for it, he responds, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17). As a result, they start working even harder to find a way to put him to death, “because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:18). Like in the synoptic gospels, Jesus’ controversial Sabbath activities and healings carry a veiled claim to divinity, and his opponents here have cracked the code.

But what exactly is their fuss? That Jesus called God his father? It’s rare but not unheard of for the Jewish scriptures to refer to God as father; he’s considered the father of David (Psalm 89:19-29), Solomon (1 Chronicles 17:11-14), the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), and others. But I notice, first of all, that Jesus doesn’t deny the charge that he worked on the Sabbath. Instead, he claims in essence that God is always at work in the world, and that he himself is doing the work of God. His use of the word “work” is a clear reference to the exact activity prohibited by the fourth commandment. And that right there, in the eyes of first-century Jews, is all kinds of blasphemy; the implication appears to be that God has been breaking his own Torah since the very first Sabbath, and that Jesus is not subject to the Sabbath law either because he is equal with God.

But how do we square that with Hebrews 4:15’s contention that Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin?” How do we square that with Jesus own claim that “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill?” (Matthew 5:17). I’ll tell you what, I don’t know how. Jesus’ response to his accusers in John 5:17 seem deliberately cryptic, intended to goad, and I do not know what to make of it. If I figure something out, I’ll come back to this. Look, the Bible is complicated.


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