“He (Jesus) left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?’ How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and it was restored as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”
~ Matthew 12.9-14, NRSV
Before entering the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples were in the field plucking heads of grain. They were hungry and so they ate. It seems simple enough, right? Wrong. Hungry or not, they were supposed to starve on the sabbath rather than break the law.
The Pharisees seem to always be present to observe these infractions and to point them out. They appear omnipresent, consistently around when some one is doing something unlawful. Perhaps, it is not the actions of those caught but the jury that seems to be following them around that is the real problem.
Jesus makes this point when he directs them to the record of scripture. They are arguing over a day that the Lord has made (Psalm 118.24). Jesus is Lord of the sabbath. The sabbath does not rule Jesus but Jesus rules the day. I suppose since he created it that this should not be a problem.
And he is, in fact, the Lawgiver and the Law of the Universe so their checking up on him is really quite comical for some and frightening for others. The Pharisees are close to the word of God but far removed from the presence of God. They know all the ‘right’ things to say but don’t seem to be able to respond and behave rightly. They are about the business of God but do not recognize that the owner is in their midst. They have been at this work for so long that they now see themselves as the owner and creator of the law. Consequently, they are above it and cannot believe that they can be overruled by anyone, especially Jesus.
Still, Jesus goes into ‘their synagogue’ (cf. Matthew 12.6) and a man was there with a withered hand. Yes, you can be in the house of God and not be whole. You can attend worship regularly and still be in need of healing. It is not the place for perfect people but broken people and in his case, withered people.
The man is in the synagogue not because he is refreshed and on a spiritual mini- vacation. He goes to the synagogue because he has a need. And while he did not ask to be healed and we do not know if he came bearing this request or some other. Something on him has dried up and has been drawn back and whether he planned or prayed for it, because he is in the house of God and Jesus is there, he will be healed.
The Pharisees are there to prevent this healing, to enter into a debate as to whether or not the man should be restored. They have come to the synagogue not for religious reasons but for personal motivations. They have come to trick and to trap Jesus. They are in the synagogue and plotting. They are in the synagogue and scheming as to how they can rid themselves of Jesus, proving again that it is not a place for perfect people but for broken people.
And they also demonstrate that it does not matter what persons say against you or your God. God is not impacted or deterred by the disapproval of or personal attacks against him. The man with the withered hand will be healed. He is known by and named according to his condition, his imperfection. But, what will they call him afterward?
Jesus says to him, “Stretch out your hand” and immediately, his name is changed or should I say, returns. He becomes Steve or Jacob or Robert again. He is no longer defined by and named after his condition. He is a healed man and his name has been restored.
I think that we too need to stretch. We need to stretch out our hands, extending them to those of other cultures. We need to stretch out our faith, believing that God can draw us close again, despite the damage that race and its progeny has caused. Forget about the Pharisees, what Bull Connor and others like him have done. The Healer is in our midst.
Will we continue to be known by our condition: black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people? Or, do we want to be called by our name? Will we continue to allow the presence of race and the belief that we cannot be healed from it to cause us to shrink, to draw back and withdraw? Will we come to church week after week and wither away? Or, will we allow ourselves to be stretched, following the command of Jesus? It’s in our hands.