. . . Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a way to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. . . .
Then Jesus asked them, “What is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply disturbed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3: 1-6)
Our thoughts of Jesus are usually of His love, His gentleness. Here we get a clear look at what makes Jesus flat-out angry, and how He handles that anger.
There are a lot of things going on here. On the surface, it’s a clash of ideas about how God should be honored on the Sabbath. But the real clash is about who is really in charge — God or man? The honor being challenged is the authority of the Pharisees. They’re fighting for their own honor as the superior keepers of the Law. They’re all about rules. Most of the rules they so assiduously keep are ones they’ve made themselves in their quest to be meticulously virtuous. Keeping them has allowed them a place on honor, and from this lofty height of confidence in their own worthiness, they’re unable to recognize, let alone acknowledge, God in their midst. Instead, they’re threatened by His presence. In fact, they’re hoping Jesus will heal on the Sabbath; it will add weight to their case against Him.
These religious experts didn’t get it. God isn’t honored by strict adherence to rules and rituals. He’s honored by love; love for Him and love for our neighbor. When these two approaches clash — especially in a place of worship — God is angry.
The man with the shriveled hand wasn’t calling attention to himself or asking to be healed; he was simply there in the place of worship on the Sabbath. It was Jesus who saw his need for healing. It was Jesus who reached out to help him. When Jesus challenged their thinking, the rule-keepers refused to reconsider the validity of their position. They knew what they thought, and what they thought had to be right.
Jesus is deeply disturbed when we stubbornly hold on to our rules and traditions, holding them higher than the healing and restoration of a fellow believer. Jesus is angry when we allow a brother or sister in Christ to leave a place of worship as shriveled as when they came in, when their need should be obvious.
How many times do we see a shriveled hand in church — shriveled from pain, fear, or injury — and how do we respond? How do I respond when Jesus challenges my perceptions, motivations, traditions? Have my own hands shriveled from disuse when they could be working and praying and praising?
Jesus was, and still is, angry when these situations arise. But His anger isn’t loud or retaliatory or a spur to division. His response was to do the right thing in God’s sight, and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
And those hands aren’t shriveled.