A Good Sabbath

generosity gospel of john rest sabbath work Feb 22, 2023

Blog by Alan Fadling

Two weeks ago, I shared some reflections on the story from John 9 in which Jesus heals the man born blind. I’m continuing with that story here:


They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. - John 9:13-16


“They” are the Jews from around the neighborhood who realized that this man born blind could now see. They must have been excited and amazed at something that defied easy explanation. You’d think that everyone would be excited about such a miraculous moment, but there are some who aren’t.


The Pharisees look past the miracle that has occurred and instead focus on Jesus’ failure to keep the Sabbath as they understand it. They seemed to have reduced the Sabbath to a long list of prohibitions. Sabbath was a “you can’t” day to them. Jesus sees the Sabbath from a broader perspective: It is not just a day of prohibitions. It is a day for truly good things to be done, shared, and enjoyed.


The Pharisees had a whole list of things that could not be done on the Sabbath because they were considered to be work. The specific act of spitting on the ground and making mud may not have been on the list, but they saw it as work and therefore it was not allowed.


It might help to think about the prohibitions in scripture that are connected to the practice of Sabbath. A common Old Testament Sabbath guideline is “do no regular work.” (That phrase shows up six times in Leviticus 23, which specifically talks about Sabbath days surrounding the main Jewish festivals.) Doing no regular work was a way of saying, “This day is special. Don’t keep measuring your life by what you produce. Don’t work seven days a week.”


But “regular work” doesn’t limit good works. When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, he does so in the spirit of Sabbath. It is a day to receive good from God. It is a day to rest from our labors. It is a day for enjoying the life we’ve been given. It is a day of grace and not a day of empty limitation.


Unfortunately, the Pharisees could only see through their narrow logic. Working on the Sabbath was sinful. Making mud was work. Jesus made mud. Therefore Jesus worked on the Sabbath and was a sinner. Period. Their logic was flawed because Jesus was the opposite of a sinner. He was the only one in the whole crowd who was actually in God’s full favor. Jesus was doing exactly what the Father wanted done when he wanted it done.


Keeping the Sabbath is about more than just not doing work. It is about receiving and sharing good from God with one another. Doing good is in keeping with the spirit of the Sabbath. Jesus healing the blind man is exactly what the Sabbath is all about.



  • What does your own practice of Sabbath look like? Do you have a day when you refrain from your “regular work”? If so, what might receiving God’s generosity on that day look like in this season? If not, what might it look like to receive one day in seven as a “gift of God.”


Photo by Marisa Buhr Mizunaka on Unsplash