Today’s Gospel is six verses long. Just the first six verses of the Gospel of Mark. The passage is both straightforward and very confusing at the same time. Jesus, the good Jew, enters the synagogue on the sabbath. Things immediately get weird. 

“There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.”

The Pharisees, the sticklers for the letter of the law, don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah. Or maybe they don’t want to believe. They certainly scrutinized to see whether he would cure someone, which sounds like they’re predisposed to knowing he actually can cure people. Yet he’s not the Messiah?

It goes on from there. Jesus asks them, point blank, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Mark tells us they remain silent. Pleaded the Fifth, we might say today. Why did they do this? We can guess they know the answer, but they don’t want to be seen as hypocrites. Yet we, sitting here 2,000 years later, can see it plain as day. 

Their reaction moved Jesus to some pretty strong feelings: anger and grief at their hardness of heart. So what does Jesus do? “Jesus said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.”

That line always makes me stop. What did Jesus actually do? Mark says he told the man to put out his hand. It doesn’t say Jesus touched him, chanted something, prayed over him, or anything else. So, the Pharisees, sticklers for the letter of the law, which says do no work on the sabbath, again are hypocritical, aren’t they? Jesus did no physical work. He didn’t need to. Yet that becomes their claim.

Reflecting on this Gospel, we need to find ourselves in it. Are we the type who know the truth, know the consequences of that truth, and thus reject it so we don’t have to face the consequences? Are we the type who know the right answer, but don’t want to admit it because of what it will say about us? Or are we humble enough to let Jesus be the Messiah for us, the true King of Peace, healing us and showing his glory through us? 

Perhaps we have found in our lives that it’s much easier to be a Pharisee than a man with a withered hand. The letter of the law can protect us — as well as shield things we don’t want revealed. But Jesus is trying to teach us, rather, the essence of the law — love, faith in God, respect for our rightful place in the grand scheme of things, compassion, service, humility. We need to pray for all of those attributes, as well as for God’s grace and mercy, to help us to be the children he wants us to be.

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