Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 3:1-6
I’m not sure what it would be like to have a withered hand. I know it would cause some physical challenges: I couldn’t carry two suitcases at a time. I likely couldn’t move furniture, perhaps not change a tire, or type very efficiently. But I’m thinking I could work around all those things. I’m thinking the more difficult issues would be less obvious. I’d know when someone did a double take it was not because of my good looks(!). I’d know that when someone tried to sneak sly look at my hand that they would wonder. And I’d wonder what they wondered – what they thought.
Raise the stakes on all that with being a real life, real-time sermon illustration. I know my kids have had to suffer through that more than once. But to be the center of controversy, or a public example of all that is good and bad about religion, God, and God’s people…that’s another story.
Consider, however, how this encounter ends…the man’s once-withered hand is restored. The Pharisees are so incensed with Jesus’ shenanigans that they go out and plot Jesus’ destruction. The man is no longer the center of attention, nor even the controversy. He is healed.
The people who witness all this see Jesus’ mercy and compassion. They witness Jesus’ challenge to the self-righteous religious leaders as to doing good on the Sabbath. They see the man healed. But it seems that once this is all over the man is forgotten. No one seems to have really been concerned about him except to prove a point – at least the Pharisees had that in mind.
Jesus’ reaction to all this? Compassion to the man with the withered hand. As to the Pharisees, anger and grief that they were so hell-bent on keeping their man-made rules about the Sabbath that they had no care for this man. Think of that combination: compassion, anger, and grief. Perhaps Jesus’ attitude would be one of those toward us right now. Compassion toward us in our times of need; anger whenever we are part of keeping his blessings from anyone else; and grief at anyone’s refusal to repent and believe in him. I’m not certain how often or how long we find ourselves in any of those situations, but I am certain Jesus’ ultimate desire is for us to live in his redeeming love.
He knew what he was up against. He knew his enemies would try to discredit him for this act of kindness and mercy. But he restored the man’s hand. He endured the Pharisees’ insults and ultimately succumbed to their evil plot. But he did this so that he could redeem us and save us. Now we can lift our hands in praise to him. Will you do it?