On most Sundays, I publish the Sunday Lesson. They’re nothing more than an observation or an idea or a study I’m working on that has useful applications. I feel deeply blessed and deeply responsible to write this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35. If you miss one, let me know and I will email it to you. You can also sign up for notifications and will get an email anytime I post something. I’m up for all comments and try to respond to them all. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re all growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
Spring arrived, and it was hot, just after the harvest. We tramped from town to town, covered with and smelling the dust raised by the destitute crowd who followed Jesus everywhere.
It was the Sabbath, and we were in the Synagogue, by ourselves, keeping away from the leaders who searched for ways to taunt us or catch Jesus in blasphemy. A man spoke with Jesus about donkeys and sheep, and when he walked away, Jesus fingered the dirt, silent. Finally, He spoke.
“You there?” He said, nodding toward another man. “Yes. You,” He laughed. “Come and stand here.”
The man was sitting, and with his right arm withered, he rolled onto that side to rise with his left arm. He struggled to his feet and came near. Their eyes met, and Jesus nodded a greeting.
“My son,” Jesus said, “you are well?”
Nodding again and glancing at the Pharisees, the man seemed loathe to speak. One of the Synagogue officials called out to them. “Jesus,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Is it permitted to cure on the Sabbath?”
Jesus knew the hearts of these Pharisees, that a smile was a coat that hides a dagger, and looked again at the man in front of him. He chuckled to Himself and looked at the gathered leaders. “I have a question for you, too, brothers. You are leaders in understanding the Law?” He raised his hands, looking for agreement, and went on: “If any of you has a sheep that falls into a hole on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you figure out a way to get it out? Grab hold of a leg and tug? In fact,” he shrugged his shoulders for emphasis, “if you see your brother’s sheep or ox fall over on the Sabbath, doesn’t the Law say that you can’t disregard it, but have to help lift it?” Silence. “Brothers, I ask you,” and He pointed to the man standing between them, “is not a man, made in the image of G, worth more than an entire pasture of sheep? Doesn’t it follow that it must be permitted to do good on the Sabbath?”
He turned to the man standing near. “Son, stretch out your arm.”
He did so, and confusion enveloped him. Looking at Jesus, and then at the Pharisees, he stretched his fingers out and curled them back in again. Bewildered, he looked at Jesus. “It’s healed. Master. It’s healed.“
One of the Pharisees laughed and shouted. “You can wiggle your fingers? And wave your hand? Good for you. There’s healing!” The group laughed now, taunting.
“No,” said the man, finding his voice. “It’s healed. Here, watch me.” He walked over to a stack of stones. He bent over and grabbed one, and turned to the men watching.
“Good for you,” said the Pharisee. “You can pick up a rock.”
Jesus raised His finger. “I think there’s more…”
The man bent down again and, with both hands, lifted a stone as big as his belly. “It’s healed! I’m telling you. All the strength is back. I don’t know how, but it’s healed.”
Jesus remained sitting, smiling at the man. “By faith, my son.”
It’s easy, as moderns, as people educated in politics and science, to stick our tongues out at the Pharisees. To see them as the white-washed tombs Jesus calls them. Don’t forget, though, that Jesus admonishes followers to do as the Pharisees say – they are the protectors of the Law, after all – but to eschew what they do. They focus on a part of the Law, the rules that can be measured, and forget where the story ends, with the prophet Micah, who calls out to his listeners, just a few hundred years before Jesus, that, “Oh man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love kindness. Walk with humility.”
What fascinates me here is that, though accused, Jesus does nothing. The Pharisees watch Him for something they can throw up their arms over. Some infraction. Maybe he will spit in the dirt, they wonder, and rub a balm on the man’s arm? But, nothing. He doesn’t even speak healing into existence like evangelists do today on the Jesus channel. “Be healed!” It’s as if, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of biting down on a piece of bread, he glances at the man. “Oh, sorry. Stretch out your arm.”
It’s interesting, too, that the man does nothing. Jesus doesn’t ask him if he’s kept the most important commandments, or if he knows who Jesus is. He doesn’t say a mighty prayer or spend the day fasting. Healing is just part and parcel of Jesus’ holiness, purity, and wholeness. It’s always available. The bromide that all prayers are answered with a Yes, No, or Later, falls on us: it’s our belief that moves miracles. Answers to prayer are contingent on our faith in G’s height, breadth, depth, and width within us. It’s telling that we make up explanations for prayers that go unanswered to blame G when any clear reading of the gospels is that it’s us. Me. You.
It reminds me of my wife and I, working in the kitchen, wondering how different we would be if Jesus walked in to say Hi? Different, not because the King of Kings is asking for a glass of V8, or because we would hurry to wipe the counters, but different because of who He is. Of what He embodies. How can you not be different standing in Isaiah’s kingly chamber where the very walls and framing quake because of the holiness of G?
The story of the withered hand is told in three of the gospels and Luke closes his telling with the story of the Pharisees, losing this battle, sneaking off to comport with the Herodians about how to win the war. The Herodians, also Jews, were political, and their purpose was to keep Herod in power and court his favor. I won’t belabor it, but take care when mixing religion and politics. Trouble bodes.
The take-home-message? Focus on forgiveness, basics, love, and mercy. Everything else takes a backseat to these essentials. Even – or especially – theology.
By way of explanation, I label myself an agnostic Christian. I attend a Southern Baptist church but am comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thinking. For Bibles, I generally use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:
G has already told you what is right and what to do: do what is right, love loyalty, and walk humbly with G.