[May 24]--Shriveled Hand, Shriveled Hearts

Mark 3:1-6

Today’s passage is sort of milestone. This is the last of five—count ‘em, five—confrontations which Jesus had with the religious leaders in a short space of time. They seemed to fight over a host of issues--not just the Sabbath, but that was an essential battlefield. We talked about the Pharisees last year in September, so we won’t go into too much detail over them. But since Mark spends a great deal of time (in a short book) on these encounters, this is worth noting.

As was his custom, Jesus was at a synagogue on the Sabbath, and Luke’s version mentions that he was teaching. A man with a shriveled hand showed up, and apparently the Master wanted to teach them something using a living object lesson.

Notice that the Pharisees were watching him carefully in order to find something to accuse him of. I find it pretty interesting that they halfway expected Jesus to heal the man on the Sabbath and so break their traditions. Apparently he already had a reputation as the type of person who'd do this.

I could be wrong, but it sure seems to me that Jesus was looking for a fight. It appears that he was looking for ways to offend the Pharisees. The man could have waited another day, or Jesus could've just healed him in private if compassion was the only factor in his timing. No, he wanted to heal this man--right here and right now--right in front of everyone else, especially the religious leaders.

And his questions are like swords, meant to cut past all the smoke and mirrors and get to the heart of the issue. The main point isn’t how to observe the Sabbath, as important as that is. The main point isn’t even compassion for people, as important as that is. The main point is: What type of God are you serving? A God who puts rules on people just for the sake of putting burdens on them? A God whose main concern is rule-keeping? Or a God who’s compassionate and gracious, who delights in restoring people? Even the rules he gives us (like the Sabbath which he gave to the Israelites) are there to benefit us. And if we need to ask ourselves if the Lord would interpret his laws broadly enough to allow me to help someone in need, then our view of him is skewed, because that’s not the God of the Bible.

Jesus saw that his words weren’t getting through to them, and this made him angry. Please keep in mind that very rarely do the Gospels record the Savior getting angry, and never for his own sake. He can heal a shriveled hand with a word, but shriveled hearts need something more.

I think I mentioned this before, but vs. 6 has a heavy irony which you might have missed if you didn’t know the background. Pharisees were ardent nationalists: They hated Rome and everything it stood for. Herodians were secularists who advocated working with Rome and its representatives (like Herod, the local king, hence their name). Normally they would've hated each other, since they agreed on virtually nothing. But in this one instance they could agree on something: Jesus had to die. They were still working on the details, but it was “when,” not “if” they'd attempt to kill him. When it comes to Christ’s message, you’d be amazed at how people can be unified in hatred of it. And of course there’s the extra irony that the “Strain out the gnat” law keepers are now plotting the murder of an innocent man.

This is what makes Jesus angry. When people ignore his Father’s boundaries (like murder) and priorities (like compassion) and set up their own boundaries and priorities, that makes him upset. And, I would expect, a little sad.

Lord Jesus, is there any hardness in my heart? Any area in which I’m not listening to you? Whatever needs to be done, break up the stony places. Yes, whatever it takes.

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