A man (let's call him Simon) waited to enter the synagogue. Quietly Simon slides in the back and sits down. Unnoticed. Unseen. He hoped.
The hair on the back of his neck prickles. Simon knows he is being watched and looks up. Near the front a group has gathered. The representatives of the Sanhedrin have their heads together. But another man is the one looking at him. For one brief moment the man stares directly at Simon. The man looks down and sees Simon's hand before he can get it under the folds of his tunic.
Simon sees there is an intense conversation developing with the man and the leaders. Simon has a withered hand. He is unaware he will become the canvas on which the Lord God Almighty will showcase his power and compassion.
The delegation of the Sanhedrin is waiting for Jesus to make a mistake. Inwardly they are hoping for him to slip and break the law—the long-held traditions of the fathers. This delegation knew if there was even one person in the synagogue who needed healing then Jesus would heal. And healing was work. And you should not, could not work on the Sabbath. If you did you were a lawbreaker. Follow the logic.
They were so caught up in their religious self-absorption that they did not know Jesus understood what they were thinking and planning. Jesus turns to the man with the withered hand and gestures for him to stand.
“Stand up so everyone can see you.” Jesus is about to make the first stroke on the canvas.
The man stands. He attempts to cover his worthless hand with his healthy one. Jesus' heart constricts. Simon tries not to make too much eye contact. His left arm holds his right arm close to his body. At the end of it dangles the useless, shrunken, withered hand.
Jesus asks a question. A loaded question (he always does). Should you do good or evil on the Sabbath? Should you save a life or kill?
God's law says not to work on the Sabbath—to keep it holy. The religious leaders of the time thought that work should be defined and so they constructed 39 laws to explain “work”. And you couldn't heal anyone. You could put an unmedicated bandage on a wound, but putting a healing salve on a wound was work. You could stop the bleeding, but you couldn't stitch. Stitching a wound would be work. If it was necessary you could keep someone from dying, but that was it. Jesus was well aware of these traditions of men.
While these religious leaders were waiting to see if Jesus would heal, they were plotting in the back of their minds how to kill Jesus—they were already scheming a murder plot. Jesus is about to heal. And they are about to kill. Where's the logic?
Jesus is waiting for an answer. What do you do on the Sabbath? On this day you have declared so holy and sacred will you not do what is good?
Jesus turns and looks at Simon. Jesus sees far more than just a man who needed to have his hand healed. This withered hand had cost Simon his livelihood and taken away the means to support his family. Taken his dignity. Taken his self worth.
Jesus looked back at the leaders...and he was angry. Yes, Jesus was angry. Not just a little mad. Not just frustrated. The original language expresses passionate anger. And he was greatly grieved.
Why? Because of the silence and lack of compassion of the very people who were supposed to be leading and showing the people his Father. Angry and grieved. The leaders would rather follow ritual and tradition than to restore a man.
Jesus turns to Simon and tells him to stretch out his hand.
The paint brush is poised and the paint about to drip.
Jesus commands, “Stretch out your useless hand.”
The hand was tight and closed—unable to unfurl. Simon made his mind tell his hand to move. Always before his hand had never obeyed. But now digit by digit his fingers are unlocked. And when the last digit on his small finger unfolds, he squeezes it shut and then open again. Over and over he opens and closes his hand. There are no catches. No tightness. No pain. Simon looks up into the eyes of Jesus.
Jesus restores the man. On the Sabbath. On God's holy day Jesus brings this man back to wholeness. To Jesus the healing of this man's hand was necessary. The man was more important and more valuable than the 39 extensions of law.
I have to ask. What is more important? Laws? Traditions? Doctrines? Opinions? Or do we value the wholeness of a person? Are we guilty of withholding a means of wholeness to someone because the method doesn't fit with our traditions?
Are we like the synagogue leaders (who were always trying to find a way to discredit Jesus)? Do we deny healing? Are we going to mimic their silence? Would Jesus look at us and be angry and greatly grieved with us?
How many people with “withered hands” do we encounter in a week? In a day? How many people do we encounter who are hiding something painful and useless? How many people do we speak and converse with each day—and inside something is withering and dying? How many are struggling to find their dignity and self worth?
What are we doing to restore wholeness and health?