Stretch out your hand

August 22, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is a story of healing in Mark 3:1-6.

Again he entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Jesus was a man on a mission, that’s for sure. He purposefully sought an opportunity to make his point further with the Pharisees about “working” on the sabbath. He was trying to convince them that the way they had been thinking about and behaving on the sabbath was wrong — that people came before slavish obedience to manmade sabbath regulations. He asked them point-blank whether they agreed with him or not. They remained silent, not acceding to his logic nor having the confidence to debate him. Their stubborn silence made Jesus mad but also sad at the same time. To grieve is to mourn loss particularly through death. Jesus had lost the contest of winning over the Pharisees to a new way of relating to God and living their faith. Consequently, they were dead to him and to themselves. They had cut themselves off from God and Jesus mourned their fate and his failure to convert them.

In anger Jesus healed the man’s hand, defiantly inflaming the Pharisees’ recalcitrance toward his claiming to be lord of the sabbath. There is no indication that Jesus touched him. He simply willed it and it was done. Jesus could have avoided the confrontation by healing the man after the sabbath. Jesus never took the path of least resistance, the easy way. He confronted the abuse of power and authority at every turn. He confronted his disciples when they argued about who was the greatest, the first among brothers. He confronted prejudice and injustice toward the diseased and disfigured. He never tried to soften his message so as not to offend.

Barclay tells us, “The orthodox Jewish attitude to the Sabbath was completely rigid and unbending.” Orthodox means conformance to accepted beliefs and practices. The Jew’s orthodoxy about God had to be transformed. Jesus challenged people at every opportunity to give up their rigid and unbending attitudes about God. Sometimes his anger seems to be a way to vent his frustration or perhaps overcome the temptation to give up in the face of their intransigence.

I know that I can be just as intransigent in my own life. It’s hard for me to change the way I think, change what I want, change how I react when thwarted. I like to think of myself as open to new ideas and ways of thinking and flexible in adapting. The truth is I’m not. I’m just as rigid and unbending when it comes to what I hold most dear, what I’m invested in defending. The Pharisees had a to invested in the status quo. So do I and that’s where I need to look to see how I am incurring Jesus’s anger at not listening to him, at resisting him. Of course, I do the same thing with people in my life. It’s no different. I need to look at what they are angry about with me because it often shows me how I am being rigid and unbending.

When I do, when I swallow my own pride and need to be right, I hear him tell me to hold out my withered hand. When I do, when I pray to him — that is, when I talk to him and listen to him — he heals me, he restores my hand, my being to usefulness, to wholeness. I always have the choice. I can be like the Pharisees who plot to kill him, to rid him from my life. Or I can be like the man with the withered hand who holds it out trusting that Jesus will heal me. Admitting that I am impaired and longing to be made whole again. That’s the cycle I go through again and again always wondering when I will learn my lessons. Maybe that’s why there are so many stories of healing in the gospels. I need to know to ask to be healed again and again.



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