We have another familiar story today that we are going to look at. Jesus and His disciples have completed their Sabbath journey and are now in the synagogue. Jesus is becoming a fixture in the synagogues on the Sabbath, when the crowds are small enough He can actually enter the cities. Capernaum is one of the cities He enters regularly. I believe that is the city where we join Jesus today.
Anyone who has been following Jesus’ exploits knows that if He is in the city on the Sabbath He is sure to make an appearance in the synagogue. So, if you need Jesus’ help, make sure to be where Jesus is. And what could be easier or more innocent than going to the synagogue on the Sabbath? We are going to name the man we meet in the synagogue today James. James is a quiet man and hates to draw attention to himself, especially with his deformity. James seldom goes out in public since the night IT happened.
James was a happily married man with four children and a good family business. James sold pottery he and his wife, Mira, made. James oldest son, Jacob, was the vocal one of the family and the one responsible to draw customers to the shop by calling out about the family’s wares. James and his family created quality products and had a very good reputation as a fair and respectable merchant.
One night, as James was closing up the shop, he heard a noise. The family had all gone home an hour ago. Very few merchants were still in the square at this hour, so James felt a little apprehensive at the sounds coming from the back of his stall. James believes it might be an animal that has gotten into the booth. He has to deal with it before it does any damage to the booth or the supplies James stores in the small trunk at the back.
James calls out, “Hello, is anyone there?” as he approaches. No one answers but things go quiet for a moment. James next hears a quiet whisper and shuffling feet. “Come out of there before I call for the guard!” Still there is no answer. James looks around the shop and spots a wooden board lying near his feet. He picks it up and feels the weight of it, ensuring that he can actually swing this at this intruder. He doesn’t want to swing at another being, but he also doesn’t want everything his family has worked for to be trampled by an uncaring invader.
James steels himself for the task at hand, but before he can move more than three steps he is hit in the head from behind. The blow nocked James to the floor and renders him unconscious. A helpless James lies on the floor as his shop is stripped of all its remaining inventory and tools.
Another hour goes by and James’ wife begins to get concerned. James should have been home a long time ago. She calls Daniel, their youngest son, and tells him to go check on his father in their stall at the market. Daniel quickly dresses and hurries to the shop. He is expecting to find his father engrossed in a new creation. It is not uncommon for him to lose track of time when creating a new complicated piece of pottery.
Daniel’s first hint that something is wrong is the lack of light coming from his family’s stall. If his father were working there would certainly be a lamp burning nearby. Daniel enters the shop from the back and almost trips on his father’s prone body. Daniel lets out a yell as he bends to check on his father. Daniel’s cry was heard by the guard on duty at the other end of the square. The guard comes running and finds Daniel crying over his father’s still form. James is alive, but not responding.
The guard learns from Daniel the family’s address and prepared to bring James home, with Daniel’s help. James begins to stir on the way home but is very confused by what is going on. Upon reaching the home Mira assists James into bed and calls for the local physician.
By morning it is evident that the blow to James head has caused significant damage. James is having difficulty speaking and using his left side. The physician does all he can for James but only time will tell as to how much healing and lasting effects James will suffer. Mira is glad that James is at least alive. They can figure out the rest later.
During the next six months the effects of the attack on James slowly fade. James speech returns to normal and he is able to walk without even a visible limp. The only lasting effect is his left hand and arm. He has not been able to move it since that night. It has even begun to draw in on itself. James is no longer able to make the beautiful pots he is famous for. For James, this is the biggest loss of all.
Two years have passed for James and Mira. Mira works the potter’s wheel for their family business. Her pots are functional and well made, but the lack the imagination and creativity in James’ works. Business has dwindled but is still enough to provide for their family. All the children help out in the shop wherever they can. James has become an even quieter man since the attack. James keeps the shop clean and tries to stay out of sight. He is ashamed of his deformed hand and hides it as much as possible.
For the last few months James has been hearing talk filtering into the back of the shop from customers concerning Jesus, an amazing Man Who is said to be able to heal any disease. At first James didn’t pay much attention to the talk as something new was always going on in Capernaum, but the stories have kept coming. A lot of people were talking about the teachings Jesus was doing in the synagogue each week when he was in town. They even talked about how Jesus was healing people when He was there.
James knew these stories first hand, as he too attended synagogue each week. James as a good Israelite, has been attending the synagogue regularly. Because of his deformity, he does not sit with the regular men but in an area where he cannot be observed by others. He hides himself as well as his hand. He has trouble even listening to the teachings because of his depening depression.
On Friday someone came into the shop talking about how he had seen Jesus in town and that He was expected to be staying at least through the Sabbath. James’ stomach began to develop butterflies. Dare he approach Jesus for a healing of his own while He is in town this time? What if Jesus said no when he asked? James doesn’t even believe himself worthy of Jesus’ notice, let alone a healing. Maybe if he didn’t hide tomorrow Jesus might see him and offer him some help without James having to ask.
Sabbath morning comes and James is rethinking his plan. He told Mira about his decision last night. She had been encouraging James to approach Jesus since she first started hearing the stories, but as the leader of their home, he had to make that decision. Mira notices the extra stoop in James’ shoulders as they ready for temple and asks him what is bothering him. James confesses his fears and his second thoughts about presenting himself where he can be seen. Mira with tears in her eyes kneels before James and says, “James my love, I will support whatever decision you make. I love you with all my being, but if you don’t try today, you never will. I have watched you shrink into yourself so far that I barely can see your eyes any more. Please, for me and the children, at least try. I can’t stand to lose any more of you to this deep sadness.”
James is moved by her love and agrees that he will sit with the men today. “Mira, I’m too afraid to approach Jesus. But if Jesus approaches me, I will take it as a sign from God and will not shy away from Him. This is all I can do. I believe the stories I have heard and I believe He can do miracles. I just don’t know if He wants to do one for me.”
The family heads off to synagogue together. Mira has been praying the whole way and when they reach their destination she gives James one last hug and kiss as she moves into the woman’s area. James daughters join Mira and his sons move into the men’s area. Daniel’s eyes widen in surprise as their father continues on into the men’s area with them instead of staying hidden near the door. Both boys smile as James takes a seat beside them, near the middle of the room.
Jesus is one of the readers today and as He begins to expound on the scriptures James’ heart drinks in every word. Before Jesus started teaching, James was sure every eye was on him and it took everything he had not to jump up and run from the room. But with Jesus speaking, calm spreads through James as he listens. Jesus seems to be speaking directly to James’ heart.
James was right about being watched. You see, James is well known in Capernaum, as well as what happened to him. Some people think that his misfortune must have been due to some sin, while others simply pity him and are glad NOT to be in his shoes. The Pharisees in particular have been watching James since he moved into the open for the first time in who knows how long. They are also watching Jesus. James is just the bait they need to trap Jesus. They know He is a sucker for a sob story and James’ story would leave anyone crying. So what is Jesus going to do? “If He heals him, like we believe He will, we have Him dead to rights on breaking the Sabbath!”
While Jesus has been teaching, He has been fully aware of all the drama going on around Him. He has actually noticed James on previous visits to this synagogue but He knew James was not in a place to ask for, or receive healing yet. James was too busy hiding to even entertain the possibility of a different path for his life. Jesus’ heart is full of love as He quietly welcomes the change in James. He is also aware of the Pharisees’ plans and frankly, they are making Him angry. They seriously want to find Him guilty of breaking the Sabbath because of reaching out to this hurting child of God! Exactly the hypocrites they have been all along.
In what appears to be the middle of Jesus’ teaching He stops. Jesus looks straight at James and says, “James would you please join me here?” James’ heart begins to beat wildly as he stands to his feet and moves towards Jesus. As James makes his way to where Jesus waits, Jesus looks around the room at all the people assembled. He sees Mira pressed up against the screen dividing the women from the men. He sees the gleam in the Pharisees’ eyes as they prepare to pounce on Him like a mouse. He sees all James’ neighbors who have either judged him a sinner or found every opportunity to distance themselves from him. There are only six people in this building rooting for James; his wife, his four children and Jesus Himself.
James reaches Jesus position and Jesus puts His hand on James’ shoulder and turns him towards the Pharisees’ seats. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (verse 4). Utter silence follows; so much so that you could hear a pin drop. Jesus is disgusted by the attitude of the Pharisees and the people. You can see it in His eyes. But His voice towards James holds nothing but compassion. “James stretch out both your hands towards the people.”
As is James’ habit, James had until that moment continued to keep his hand hidden. With tears in his eyes though, he pulls his hand from beneath the folds of his belt and stretches both hands towards the congregation, specifically reaching towards the women’s side where he knows Mira is waiting. As he reaches out his left hand begins to uncurl. As it continues to straighten it also fills out with muscle tissue, from his fingertips all the way to his shoulder. James feels new again! He is beside himself with joy and gratitude!
Not only is James’ hand restored that day but his heart too. He walked in a broken man but went away whole. James and Mira couldn’t wait to invite Jesus to their home for dinner. They owed Him so much! This was one request he would make of Jesus personally, shy or not.
James learned several things that day. The first was that Jesus had seen him all along, even when he was hiding from sight. Jesus told James that He was just waiting for him to be ready to take the first step towards his healing. As soon as James took the first step, Jesus met him there and brought him the rest of the way through.
James also learned, through his long ordeal, how damaging judging others can be. Everyone had assumed he had committed some sin to earn this as his punishment. He had almost come to believe it himself. James would not make that assumption about others who suffered, ever again. He would look on the hurting with compassion from that day forward. James would also return to his pottery that he loved so much, but this time when he created anything he would remember that it was only through the love of Jesus that he was able to create such beauty.
Father God, thank You for meeting us where we are, even if it is at the point of our very first step. You reach out to us and draw us to Yourself, instead of holding back and demanding that we get there on our own. Your gift of Jesus is the best example of this. Thank You that, through the New Testament writers, showed us that You are not a vengeful God who punishes us for every wrong by bringing disaster into our lives. Thank You too, that through disaster we learn lessons we never would have without it. Not that You sent it but that You used it and turned it into something good. Thank You for every scar I wear, for You turn each one into the point of a star as You draw my new beginnings.