Of Sheep and Withered Hands

Jesus went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. – Matthew 12:9-14

Yellow Flower | Galveston, TX | July 2019

This passage was shared this morning in a devotional time with som other pastors. The pastor who shared it made three points that I thought quite insightful.

1. Jesus went to “their” synagogue. He was on their turf. He went to them. He was not on his own turf – humanly speaking. They knew their way around. They knew the lay of the land. It seems likely they knew the man with the withered hand – though it does not say so explicitly in the text.

It is clear, however, that the Pharisees saw potential to use this man to accuse Jesus. He was their ticket to discredit Jesus. He was a means to their end of putting Jesus in a bad light, and he was simply available for that purpose. They didn’t seek to care for him. They weren’t worried about his hand. They worried more about their sheep than about this man. He was merely a means to an end. They wanted to get at Jesus, and he was their pawn.

What causes this kind of behavior? Fear. The Pharisees were held captive to fear. They were afraid they would lose their position of privilege. They were afraid that they would forfeit their prestige in the eyes of the people. They were afraid Jesus was turning things upside down – which he was by they way.

But they were not afraid to try to stop the Son of God. They were not afraid to manipulate and use another human being, an object of God’s love and mercy, for their nefarious ends. They were not afraid to conspire against Jesus to destroy him. Sad.

The question we must always ask when dealing with other people – friends, enemies, acquaintances, friends, or colleagues – is whether we are showing them the love, mercy, and grace that reflects God’s love, mercy, and grace for all people.

I am not a man with a withered hand, but I could easily be the target of someone’s manipulative schemes. I could be tempted to use other people for my own ends – though I pray God would give me the discernment over my own false motives, and the grace to resist such temptation.

Jesus allowed none of this. He called out their hypocrisy and healed the man’s hand. That’s the kind of Savior we all need: One who ferrets out our false motives and one who heals our withered hands.

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