Mark 3: 1 – 6 Jesus heals on the Sabbath

Mark 3: 1 – 6 Jesus heals on the Sabbath

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’

Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

*       *       *

At the heart of this passage is the question, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’

At the time of this story there was no such thing as a Christian, or a Christian church. Both Jesus and the Pharisees were Jews, following Judaism and subject to Jewish law. Both Jesus and the Pharisees agreed that the Sabbath should be kept holy; this was one of the fundamental laws given to the Jews by God at Mount Sinai.

‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ (Exodus 20:8)

The law is quite clear; indeed, it is detailed and comprehensive in its scope. In a society under Jewish law nobody, but nobody, was supposed to work on the Sabbath.

But what was Jesus’ view? Here, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, was a man with a withered arm. Jesus seized the opportunity, and asked the Pharisees:

‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’

The Pharisees said nothing.

Jesus’ question was not merely rhetorical. He wanted an answer. When the Pharisees remained silent, Mark tells us that Jesus was ‘deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.’

But the Pharisees remained silent, and so Jesus gave his own answer to the question he had posed. He healed the man, then and there, and by doing so he made it abundantly clear that this law must not be viewed as an absolute.

Furthermore, unlike in Mark 2: 23 – 28, this was not an appeal to Jesus’ own authority as Son of Man. He has posed the question to the Pharisees. ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ He expected an answer; more, he very much wanted an answer. He expected the Pharisees to work out for themselves that the law had to be applied humanely.

Jesus had answered the question. More than that, he had validated the answer by the miraculous healing of the man with a withered arm. Were the Pharisees convinced?

No, they weren’t. Quite the opposite.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The only way I can understand the actions of the Pharisees is that their faulty understanding of the Sabbath blinded them to the truth Jesus was trying to show them. Indeed, the challenge to their preconceptions was so great that they plotted to destroy Jesus.

Just as Jesus expected the Pharisees to apply the law humanely, so he expects us to do the same. Just as Jesus could set aside one of the ten commandments when it needlessly prevented a good action, so can we.

Just as the Pharisees were blinded to the truth by their prejudices, so can we be.

Are there any issues where my prejudices blind me to God’s truth?

‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’

We know what Jesus thought.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Please help me to take your law very seriously. At the same time, please help me to understand when your will takes me outside the guidance of your law.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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