Again he (Jesus) entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They (the Pharisees) watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
We return to the sacred place of the synagogue and the sacred time of Sabbath. Mark is again drawing us into conflict on a symbolic level. Jesus is challenging the authority of the religious leaders - here the Pharisees - who control the sacred space and sacred time of synagogue and Sabbath.
Jesus is direct in this episode. Mark introduces the man with a withered hand in the opening line, and the Pharisees in the second. We are told immediately the intentions of the Pharisees - “…so that they might accuse him (v. 2).” Jesus meets their attempt to accuse him by calling the man forward. Jesus is acting with purpose - “Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”
Myers reflects - “As in the modern practice of civil disobedience, which might break the law in order to raise deeper issues of its morality and purpose, so Jesus, just before ‘crossing the line,’ issues a challenge to his audience. Pitting his mission of compassion and justice to the poor against the imperatives of the dominant order, Jesus calls the entire ideological edifice of the law to account (Myers, 162).”
Jesus pushes the envelope, declaring that to not heal the man on the Sabbath would be to commend him to death. The Pharisees following of the Law had become about maintaining power. From Jesus' perspective they were willing to watch the man die in return for maintaining good order and their monopoly on Sabbath control. Sure Jesus could have waited a few hours and healed the man when the Sabbath was over, but he chooses to heal and demonstrates the purpose of his ministry. Jesus gives life.
Jesus is angry with the Pharisees. Mark uses harsh language to describe how Jesus responds. Jesus is angry, and grieved at the Pharisees' "hardness of heart." His anger is at their unwillingness to participate in the moment of healing because is breaks there power hold on the Sabbath practices.
Jesus demonstrates that his ministry is about giving life, not maintaining a broken system of power. The word the“ἤγειρεν - to be raised” is present again in verse 3 - “Come forward” can also be translated “Rise, into the middle.” Mark uses the word “to raise” and connects this moment to Jesus’ own resurrection. Jesus once again raises someone to life from a state of being socially/metaphorically dead.
Questions for Modern Day Disciples
- How do we try to maintain our power in unhealthy ways?
- Do we hold on to power instead of offering healing?
- What rules/laws are we willing to transgress for the sake of the Gospel?