And it came to pass on another Sabbath…there was a man with a withered hand….
Then Jesus said to them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? To save life, or to destroy it? And looking around about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. Luke 6: 6-10
Jesus is a man to be greatly admired, and one of His earthly qualities so striking to me is His ability to maintain perspective. On this particular day, it was time to go to church. Ah, yes, church. Much like the 21st century, it had become pretty impersonal. There was alot of judgment and condemnation, and the haves got together and sat in different places than the have nots. People still went, mind you. And usually there was still a glimmer of hope when the scriptures were read, but the tensions in the air settled down like heavy fog which made going to church a place to huddle rather than a place to hug. It is the place where Jesus went, and though surrounded by people, He was very much alone. They weren’t His crowd, and they did not wish Him well.
In Jesus’ humanity, how did He even see the man with the withered hand? He could see into the crowd’s self-righteous hearts. He even knew their thoughts (v.8) and He knew the depths of evil there. They were not seeking truth or community. They wanted preservation and status.
Jesus had responsibilities that morning. He was teaching, and knew there would be opposition. The leaders were sitting together and their twisted expressions communicated their disgust with His holy invasion. Just do your duty, Jesus. Get the scroll read and get out of there. They won’t listen to You anyway. Keep Your head down and they will not realize that You know all about them. Just let Your words condemn them. They don’t deserve to be in Your presence. Why did You even bother to go to church! You can read quickly and be back on the hillsides as soon as the sun warms the day. Hurry Jesus! You don’t belong here.
Sometimes I want to run away when I go to church. It would be so good to head for the hillsides, and run away from my loneliness. I long for the smiles and hugs that should be there. I long to know and be known, and soon my mind wanders to all those things that could make my life so much happier. I hurry to do things that will make life seem normal, but I am so distracted. I keep my head down, and try not to feel invisible in a couples world. Sometimes I stumble into a black hole, because I just wasn’t watching for anything else, and the familiar pain of emptiness and loss have captured my world. Just get out of there, my withered heart screams. Go somewhere new! But I have no place to go.
Sitting in the crowd at church that day, another man sits alone. His right arm is bent across his chest, and he clutches the wasted muscle that twists his fingers. One cannot work without hands, and his complete poverty is reflected not only in his clothes, but in his eyes. The leaders at church told him it was God’s judgment, and it only made sense that his sin should be punished. The man (whose name is forever unknown) will hurry out after the scroll is read to sit at the gate, and perhaps the Pharisees will give him a coin so he will eat that day.
His wandering mind is jolted by the strong voice of the Guest Speaker. Rise up and stand forth in the midst! (v. 8) It is Jesus speaking! He did not tell him to go outside, or to meet Him after the service. Jesus remains in the midst of hostility and condemnation, of self-righteousness, and self-centeredness. How could it be? But Jesus has a perfect perspective in spite of the assault that wars in the minds of all those in the midst. He looks at each one of his accusers, and considers in that moment, whether to do good, or to do evil, whether to save a life or to destroy it.
Chaos ensues as the man leaps and shouts praises, waving two strong hands in the air, and the Pharisees yell wild rebukes. They rush to regain order in the crowd. Their panic is drowned out by the good that has overcome evil. But the man whose withered hand is restored seems unaware of the bedlam going on around him. His eyes are fixed on Jesus. Here was a man who had every reason in the world to spend His time in other places. He could have shut himself off from the church crowd, since there were plenty of people on the hillsides who would praise Him. But Jesus’ eyes are fixed on him as well. Jesus chose to be in this hostile place, because even in a hostile world there is good to be done, and it cannot be left undone. That was Jesus’ perspective all the time. And as their gazes spoke to one another, the evils of life that pressed upon both of them moved far away. It is true that the hand was no longer withered, but whole. But that is not the entire story. What was real could only be seen by those who had maintained perspective in the midst of a very cruel world. This man, and Jesus, found their joy, not in the wholeness of a withered hand, but in the healing of a withered heart, fully restored to heal a broken world.
Today, Jesus is the Guest Teacher in my world that is shaded black with death. He doesn’t notice that the dishes are undone and the dust is thick on the table in the hall. Never tripping over the endless clutter in a house no one is home to care for, He sets His face towards me and invites me to stretch forth a withered heart. And when I do, all of the people around me and the circumstances that oppress me are no longer disturbing. “Be whole,” He says, and just that simply, I am!