Mark 3, 1-6 The Healing of the Man with the Paralyzed Hand
Mark tells us the story of Jesus healing a man in the synagogue who had a paralyzed hand. The Greek word used to describe the man’s condition tells us that he was not born with a paralyzed hand. There is a Gospel according to the Hebrews which tells us that the man was a stone mason and that he sought Jesus’ help to restore his livelihood because he was ashamed to beg. His withered hand was a cause of a disease. However, it was the Sabbath, and it was forbidden to heal, because healing is considered work.
For a modern mind such as ours, the strict Jew’s regard for the Sabbath is difficult to comprehend. Let us just put it that a serious Jew would follow the law in its definite and detailed form, and following the law was regarded as obedience to God. Our historian, Josephus, tells us to what extent the strict Jews would respect the Sabbath. In the wars of the Maccabees, the Jewish rebels hid in caves. The Syrian soldiers gave the Jews a chance to surrender, but they would not. So they fought against them on the Sabbath. There was no resistance: the entrances of the caves were not blocked, they did defended themselves, and so they were burned. They cannot break their regard for the Sabbath. Second, the Roman accounts tell us that they have to exempt Jews in military service, because when a battle day falls on a Sabbath, they will not fight.
By healing on a Sabbath, in full view of the Sanhedrin who was there to judge anyone who might mislead people and the Pharisees, Jesus placed himself in a dangerous position to assert a very important principle which is overlooked: that any human act to meet any human need is lawful on the Sabbath. By healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus gave him back his livelihood and thus his life.
It is quite easy to agree with the principle; it quite different when human need stares at our face. A friend emailed these pictures of grave human suffering. I would like you to look closely at these pictures, be aware of your feelings and what your feelings are driving you to do or not to do.
Jesus puts the needs of the man before the ‘rules’ of religion, and he is fearless in challenging an unjust law. Where do ‘the rules’ and the needs of people around me come in the list of my priorities?