We are continuing the Sabbath day’s journey with Jesus, His disciples, and the judgmental Pharisee group. Jesus was apparently on His way to the Synagogue when He and His disciples were walking by the grain field. The Pharisees were still spoiling for a fight as they tagged along.
The first thing recorded by Matthew after Jesus entered the synagogue is the fact that there is a man with a withered hand in attendance that day. Did Jesus notice the man first or did the Pharisees pull him from the crowd in order to bait Jesus? Had Jesus identified the man and stepped near him to address his need? Did the man approach Jesus or one of His disciples for healing? What were His disciples doing during this time? We are told straight up that the Pharisees’ question about healing this man was devised to find some reason to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. They didn’t like Jesus one bit and would use any excuse to get rid of Him, permanently!
Jesus didn’t respond to their legal question with a legal answer, but with a heart answer. Jesus had this habit of answering a question with a question, and today was no exception. His question was designed to demonstrate that even they knew that showing compassion was an acceptable act on the Sabbath. He was revealing the heart in God’s law.
Jesus uses the example of a sheep getting stuck in a pit to contrast compassion and legalism. This is not necessarily a life threatening situation, but still would be uncomfortable and possibly dangerous for the sheep. Most of us would want to help the sheep get out of its predicament. Jesus certainly expected that, if the Pharisee were the owner of the animal, they would feel the same. But would they react with love or legalism in such a situation?
Surely they recognize how much more valuable to God man is than animals. If they can have compassion for an animal in need on the Sabbath, then Jesus showing compassion for man on the Sabbath is more than acceptable. Jesus’ example exposed their hearts and shut their mouths.
Jesus now can give this man His full attention. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to heal him. What had the man been thinking while Jesus was “debating” with the Pharisees? Was he thinking that he didn’t want to be in the middle of this debate? Was he waiting quietly for the outcome or standing there rooting for Jesus? Had he come to the synagogue today hoping to meet Jesus? How invested was he in this process? And again, what were Jesus’ disciples doing during this debate?
There was no “work” required in the man’s healing, beyond the work of faith and Jesus’ miracle power. Jesus didn’t make a paste of anything or tell the man to pick up something. In fact if you had been observing from a distance it probably would have looked a lot like a man reaching out to shake hands.
I bet that after the reaching forward was completed, though, there was a lot of excitement following it! I can just see the man standing there looking at his hand. Turning it over and over. His friends slapping him on the back with joy! Tears running down the faces of the man and his family. The man wiping the tears from his wife’s face with the fingers that once remained hidden from view. Such a joyous occasion!
Off to the side of this excited group stands another group. That group is anything but happy. In fact they are seething with anger. It is the shot down Pharisees, once again, regrouping to lick their wounds and devise a new plan. (I just got a picture of Willie Coyote and the Road Runner here. His traps always backfired too.)
Father God, first of all, thank You for the sense of humor You gave me. Even in the times of greatest stress You bring me laughter. The plans the Pharisees were devising for Jesus were anything but funny. They were obsessed with the destruction of Jesus. They didn’t care who they hurt in the process. Thank You that Jesus didn’t let anyone seeking help from Him suffer from their vendetta. He healed every one of them anyway after, once again, putting the Pharisees to shame. Their schemes never won, until it was Your choice to let it be so. I bet they strutted around like peacocks the day Jesus died and for the whole time He were in the grave. What I wouldn’t give to have seen the looks on their faces when they found out You weren’t in the grave any more. Probably a lot like the look they had after You healed the man that day. Jesus always chose love over legalism and NEVER broke God’s Law while doing so. Jesus, thank You for Your compassion and mercy, then and now.