Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Stretch Out Your Hand

David answered him: “You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted. Today the LORD shall deliver you into my hand…All this multitude, too, shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves. For the battle is the LORD’s and he shall deliver you into our hands.”  1 Samuel 17:45, 47

Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored.  Mark 3:4-5
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for battle,
my fingers for war against sin;

O God, a new song I will sing to you;
on a ten-stringed lyre I will play for you.
You give victory to kings;
you delivered David your servant.
From the menacing sword deliver me;
rescue me from the hands of foreign foes. (Psalm 1B-2, 9-11A)

Again he entered the synagogue.  Jesus did good deeds and miracles in many places and that often included the synagogue.  However, doing good alone did not endear himself to the powers that be.  In fact, here we are in just the second week of Ordinary Time and the miracle of healing the man on the Sabbath has resulted in the seeds of revenge being plotted against Jesus by the Pharisees. 

Sabbath observance was based on God’s resting on the seventh day. 

On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.(Exodus 20:11)

However, if God took Sunday “off” to put up his feet and catch the Patriots-Broncos football game, what would happen in the world?  Would not all life grind to a halt?  Some rabbis insisted that God’s providence remains active on the sabbath, keeping all things in existence, giving life in birth and taking it away in death. Other rabbis taught that God rested from creating, but not from judging (ruling, governing). [i]

In both Mark’s Gospel story and the parallel account in John, Jesus claims the same authority to work as the Father.  Based upon that authority, Jesus gives the man in the temple two commands.  “Come up here before us.”  “Stretch out your hand.”  To both, the man with the crippled hand obeys.  We hear no words responding to Jesus but just assume quiet action.  Picture Jesus, reaching both hands out to the man, inviting him to be healed.  Picture the withered hand reaching back to Jesus and being grasped firmly with the healing touch of the Lord.     

It took no weapon.  It took no direct challenge. The Pharisees ”learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.” Just by the act of healing.  As is pointed out in the notes to this reading in the New American Bible:

Here Jesus is again depicted in conflict with his adversaries over the question of sabbath-day observance. His opponents were already ill disposed toward him because they regarded Jesus as a violator of the Sabbath. Jesus’ question (“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?”) places the matter in the broader theological context outside the casuistry of the scribes. The answer is obvious. Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in the sight of all and reduces his opponents to silence.[ii]

Where is Jesus asking you to go?  What is Jesus asking you to do?  To what battle is he sending you? “Come up here before us.”  “Stretch out your hand.”  Will you respond with the obedient action of the man with the crippled hand?  Or will you sit there, reduced to silence with the Pharisees?

Jesus does not ask us to do anything he has not already done when he stretched out both hands on the cross for our sins.

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