Ever have one of those moments where you read something you’ve read hundreds of times before, and all of a sudden you see something different?
That’s how I felt this morning reading a story about Jesus from the gospel of Mark.
I’ve heard that story lots of times – first with flannel graph characters or figurines in a sandbox in Sunday school.
Now I haven’t spent time doing an exegesis on the passage. I haven’t consulted commentaries on those verses of scripture. And I’m certainly no biblical scholar.
But something came to me as I was reading this out of a new translation called The Voice:
On the Sabbath, Jesus had come into a synagogue where He saw a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees held their breath: would Jesus cure this man on the Sabbath, right there in front of everyone? If so, they could charge Him with breaking the Sabbath law. Jesus knew their hearts. He called to the man with the withered hand.
Jesus: Come to Me.
Then He turned to the Pharisees with a question.
Jesus: Do our laws tell us to do good or evil on the Sabbath? To save life, or to snuff it out?
They remained silent.
Jesus was furious as He looked out over the crowd, and He was grieved by their hard hearts.
(How can anyone care so much about the words of the law
and so little about the spirit of it?)
Jesus: (to the man with the withered hand): So be it. Stretch out your hand.
The man stretched forth his hand; and as he did, it was completely healed. The Pharisees went directly from the synagogue to consult with the supporters of Herod, the Romans’ puppet ruler, about how they could get rid of this dangerous dreamer.”
Mark 3:1 – 6, The Voice
The passage centers around the Pharisees’ intent to trap Jesus, but this morning I heard an even deeper message for me. Right before this story, Jesus explains that the divine purpose of the Sabbath was for our good – to meet the needs of human beings, not the other way around. But the Pharisees were caught up in following a rule without understanding its deeper purpose. Following their perspective meant the man’s hand would’ve remained unusable. The man’s condition wasn’t life-threatening, but had it been, that would’ve been okay to heal on the Sabbath.
The fact that it wasn’t, and Jesus healed the man’s hand anyway, is an even greater display of compassion.
Notice that Jesus isn’t saying that observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy isn’t important. He observed it himself and taught his followers to do the same. But here, meeting the need of a man who is hurting is the greater good.
The way of Christ was radical then and it still is today.
Jesus comes along and shows us the importance of caring for a person, a person who was in deep need. He shows us that sometimes you forego the way you’ve always done things, to care for an individual.
Jesus shows us that sometimes you break the Sabbath to heal withered hands.
Jesus shows us that making a real difference in someone’s life requires personal involvement.
Sometimes it requires touch.
It always requires inclusion.
Withered souls are all around us. Souls withered by the rejection of family, of church, of well-intentioned friends who simply don’t understand. Souls so withered that they’ve lost any belief in God. Especially a God who loves each of us without end.
Until belief is restored – until relationship is mended – until the needs for community and connection are met, we as followers of Christ will have no voice with men and women who identify as gay.
First, care for the hearts that are withered, sometimes because of us.
Often I’ve been so concerned about following rules that I was always taught, that I’ve allowed the deep needs of people right in front of me to go unmet. I’ve thought people had to have all their stuff together (as though I have all my stuff together?!) before I could have anything to do with them.
Before we could have any relationship at all.
I was so wrong about that.