Sunday School Lessons

Rules or Righteousness

Following up from the previous article’s lesson about Jesus healing a woman who had been suffering for a long time (see Luke 13:10-13), we might be ready to celebrate.  In fact, I think that we should celebrate when God blesses someone with physical and spiritual restoration.

However, the next few verses show that not all of the responses to this event were positive:

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Luke 13:14‭-‬17 NIV

Apparently, this healing had been defined as “work” by the local tradition, so the synagogue leader calls Jesus out.  It was one thing to have Jesus teach, I suppose, but to openly break tradition – well, that might give the synagogue a bad name.  The Lookout (referenced below) says, “The religion police were more interested in procedures than people.”  Do you know – or have you been – someone who finds the worst in everything, even blessings from God?  These sort of killjoys bring up problems when God offers solutions, and remind us of past pain when we should be celebrating future peace.

The synagogue leader tries to appear compassionate, I guess, by suggesting that the woman could still come and be healed on another day.  (Another article that I read said that prayers are held in a synagogue three times a day throughout the week, so coming on another day wouldn’t necessarily require an appointment.)

However, Jesus makes it clear that people are more important than traditions.  Even if those traditions were well-meaning (perhaps by trying to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses), they fundamentally missed the point of God’s commandments by blocking people from loving their neighbor (the second greatest commandment – see Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34).

Jesus doesn’t mince words.  He uses the h-word (“hypocrites”), and He uses the plural (suggesting that it wasn’t just the synagogue leader who was in the wrong).  He makes the simple point that if we can give basic support to animals on the Sabbath, how much more would it be OK for this woman to be freed from 18 years of bondage?  (Pet owners: note that it’s still good to take care of animals – just not to the exclusion of people.)

And, isn’t this like what the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) teaches us: that righteousness isn’t just checking a bunch of boxes by following rules, but rather by having a heart that loves God and loves our neighbor?

I hope that we can learn to be open to God’s will, even when it collides with our personal plans.  And, as verse 17 shows us, we should be careful if we are tempted to accuse Jesus of doing the wrong thing.  If we do, we’re likely to be humiliated.

Before we are too quick to judge the synagogue leader, though, let us honestly examine our hearts.

  • Are there times when we don’t want to associate with people who we consider sinners, even though Jesus did?
  • Are there times when we don’t want to speak up with the truth of the good news, even though Jesus did?
  • Are there times when we don’t want to get involved when someone is being harmed, even though Jesus did?
  • Are we putting comfort, reputation, or convenience ahead of loving God and loving other people?

When we claim that we want to be like Jesus, but don’t show the same loving behavior that Jesus did (or when we actively oppose loving actions in others), aren’t we suggesting – even in just a small way – that what Jesus did was wrong?

So, let’s ask ourselves this: If the Holy Spirit broke out in a church service today, would we listen?  If someone was healed in service, or came up to the front to share a message that was clearly from God, but they weren’t part of the schedule, how would the leadership and the congregation react?  If the Holy Spirit used the speaker to deliver a message that wasn’t planned, but it ended up running longer than we expected, would we see that God was working in a special way?  If that happened, since God was the reason we were meeting together in the first place, would His plan take priority?  Or, would we check our watches and wonder if the lesson would be done in time to get out on time for lunch (or for the big game)?

Hopefully, we make the right choice when given an opportunity like that.  When we do so, I think that we are much more likely to see people “delighted” (or “rejoicing”, per the NASB) with what God is doing.

Don’t let your love for God and love for others get blocked by other people’s rules (or even your own).  If a rule keeps you from showing righteous, holy love, it’s probably not a good rule.  And remember, sometimes saying nothing (when we should speak up) is as bad as joining in with those who are harming someone else while we remain silent.

Let’s consider what the things are that we value highly in this life.  What would we be willing to break rules or traditions for?  Then, let us consider that if we are willing to bend the rules (meaning the rules of people, not the commandments of God) for what we value, are we willing to set those same rules aside to show love to others, in Jesus’ name?

From Sunday School lesson prepared for April 24, 2022


  • The Lookout, April 24, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.

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