John Kilgallen, «The Obligation to Heal (Luke 13,10-17)», Vol. 82 (2001) 402-409
Luke 13,10-17 is often considered to be a parallel to Luke 14,1-6; further, Luke 13,10-17 is often separated, in the structuring of Luke’s Gospel, from Luke 13,1-9. In this essay, there is noted the crucial difference between the key words dei= (13,14.16) and e!cestin(14,3) for the interpretations (and differences) between these two Sabbath cures. Also this essay notes the inherent unity of the cure of the bent woman with the call to repentance that precedes it.
to have been punishments for sins. The words of Jesus end with the solemn declaration/warning: ‘I say to you, if you do not repent, all of you will perish in like manner’ (v. 5). The identification of the sins of others should not obscure the need that all repent.
To this strong teaching about the need for repentance, Jesus adds a parable. While a tree deserves to be cut down for its lack of fruitfulness, one can imagine the petition that, under further intense care, the tree be allowed one further opportunity to produce fruit. This parable is said in the light of the demand of Jesus that all repent or perish. In the light of the parable, one understands that the presence of Jesus is the presence of the vine-dresser; his appeals to repent, i.e., produce good fruit for God, are those efforts of the vine-dresser during the time of the owner’s patience, a patience which, the parable suggests, does have an end.
It seems fitting, then, that Luke offer Jesus as a model of that activity which signals the essence of repentance33. The great commandment, love of God, and the second like it, love of neighbor, is the revelation of what the truly repentant person embraces. An example of one who lives this love of neighbor is Jesus, as reflected in the remarks of the synagogue leader and of Jesus. One can admire the wonderful healing power of Jesus, but recognizes that, in calling its exercise a necessity, Jesus is presented as one who uses his power for the good of others. The story of the bent woman is not a story about what the Law allows or permits; it is a story about the need incumbent on a loving Jesus that he use his power for the good of others. That the exercise of this power is obligatory for him on the Sabbath, that its exercise does not lessen one’s due worship of and attention to God on the Sabbath, this too is a lesson of the story of the bent woman. But, given the sequence of material, 13,1-5; 13,6-9; 13,10-17, one can appreciate the inclusion in a story about the Sabbath the revelation about the motivation of Jesus, that ‘necessity’ that comes from the Law for every Jew, to do what love of neighbor would demand. The cure of the bent woman illustrates not what work is allowed on the Sabbath, but what work should be done on the Sabbath — that one might love one’s neighbor fully, as God commands.