Learning from God's Creatures
                by Lois Tverberg

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29

Frequently Jesus speaks about how God deals with people by using animals as an example. God watches over the sparrow (10:29) and provides for the ravens (Lk 12:24). And, Paul talks about the law not to muzzle an ox as it treads out the grain, and then assumes that it applies even more to people. (1 Cor 9:9 and 1 Tim 5:18). Jesus also defends the act of healing on the Sabbath by paralleling it with untying an animal or rescuing one from a pit. (Lk 13:15-16, Mt 12:11).

How is it logical to infer that anything that applies to animals applies all the more to people? This may seem obvious, but it would have been important to the rabbis of Jesus' time to find it in Scripture, not just assume it because it seems to make sense. We find an answer from a passage in the Mishnah that shows the logic.

Have you ever seen a wild beast or a bird who has a trade? Yet they get along without difficulty. And were they not created only to serve me? And I was created to serve my Master. So is it not logical that I should get along without difficulty? But I have done evil and forfeited my right to sustenance without difficulty. Simeon ben Eleazar, Mishnah, Kiddushim 4:14

This rabbi points out that in Genesis 1:26, humans were made in God's image to reign over creation, so just as a king's subjects are his "servants," animals are man's "servants." So it was logical that if God gave a rule that applied to the treatment of animals, how much more should it apply to people! This seems to be behind Paul's statement that the law about not muzzling an ox is actually for humans as well.

This may also be part of Jesus' teaching about healing the woman on the Sabbath. Many laws in the Torah were based on the principle of preventing distress to animals, including even waving a mother bird away from a nest if you took the eggs or chicks to eat! (Dt 22:6) From this, the rabbis inferred the principle ofTzar Baalei Hayim - which means to "prevent suffering to living things." In regards to people, they had a different principle called Pikuach Nefesh, "preservation of life" which noted the many commands against bloodshed in the Torah and then inferred that whenever life is at stake, other laws can be set aside, especially Sabbath laws. While it was important to save life, this principle wasn't about suffering, but about preventing death.

It seems that Jesus is using rabbinic logic in Luke 13:15-16 to say that if some Sabbath laws can be set aside for the prevention of distress to animals, how much more can they be set aside to prevent distress to humans! 

Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his 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? Luke 13:15-16

We can hear the "how much more" comparison when he points out that an animal can be untied to be led to water to prevent its thirst on the Sabbath. How much more a human should be released from suffering, and even more, a "daughter of Abraham," one of God's chosen people!  He's building on the one regulation to say that another is even more weighty. He's taking the laws that pay attention to distress of animals and amplifying them to apply to humans too.

Christians and Jews both have said that Jesus broke with Judaism in his treatment of the Law. But here we see how he used the same logic and principles as other rabbis of his day — and built upon them to bring them to the highest level.

6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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