Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 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. 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
There is a very interesting serial currently showing on Netflix titled Messiah. It is the story of a man who seems to have extraordinary powers, and there is a possibility he could be Jesus come again. Or, he could be just a con-man. Or whatever. I am not one of those guys who spoils movies by revealing the plot, but the reason I mention this series is because it provided very good insights into how we might react to Jesus if he were to come again. We recoil at how they treat him, and then shudder, thinking that we just might treat him the same way.
I felt that way reading today’s passage. Jesus enters a synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand; a hand that is not functional. I get the feeling it’s a set up, that this man has deliberately been brought in to trap Jesus. Jesus, of course, feels compassion for the man, and great anger towards the Pharisees. “What is right,” he asks them, “to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to take like?”
They don’t answer, because they are not interested in issues dealing with mercy and compassion. They are only interested in rule-keeping. They want to see if Jesus is going to obey the Sabbath rule or if he is gonna break it. If he obeys it and does nothing adventurous, they would go away pleased that he followed their rules; that he was under their thumb. If he doesn't obey it, well, then he would learn what it meant to disobey them. Who did he think he was?
Let me ask you a question. What would you do if you were the leader of a church (or organization, or whatever — this example holds good universally), and you had a whole lot of rules in place, and somebody came in and started to break them. Now, these are very good rules you have; let us grant you that. They are all made for very good reasons too. However, this person who is breaking them has a good reason for breaking them; better than the reasons you have for keeping them. What would you do?
I am telling you, most of us would get furious with the upstart and look at ways in which to destroy him. Otherwise, he destroys our way of doing things. And that can’t happen, can it, even though his way might make life better for everybody? Let me ask you another question. If Jesus were to show up today, reminding us of the things he told us to do 2,000 years ago, how would we treat him? Do you really think we would treat him differently than the Pharisees did? So how do we change?
Scripture says, "Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart". Our hearts might be hard too. If they are, let us ask him to take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.