Summary: A look at the church.
October 20, 2013
I want you to think about the many people you have met this week. I’m not talking about the friends you talked to, I’m talking about the many acquaintances and strangers you met this past week. Maybe it was the waiter or waitress; the doctor, nurse or medical personnel, the mechanic, the sales clerk, and that list could go on.
In 2009, there was a book written which took a look at these seemingly unremarkable encounters. The authors concluded, these meetings can have a profound effect on our health, happiness, and success. The book is entitled, Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don't Seem to Matter … But Really Do. The author writes about the fact that a friendly greeting can change our outlook on the day, a simple service someone offers can improve the quality of our lives, how a casual conversation can lead to a new job or romance, how a fender bender can prompt a next step on a spiritual journey.
In today's passage, we're going to meet someone who didn’t really seem to matter. We might say he was inconsequential, yet he was really a consequential stranger. He was someone who didn't seem to matter to anyone, except Jesus.
Before I read this passage, think about some people you’ve met this past week. Maybe they’re part of your everyday world who you don't really know. Let's learn from Jesus what it might mean to "do good" to people like that, and what impact it might have on their lives, and ours.
1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.
2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.
3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked the accusers, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
11 Jesus said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? (Matthew 12)
12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12)
5 Jesus looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
In order to appreciate this story, we have to understand that keeping the Sabbath was at the top of the list for the Jewish people. Of all the spiritual activities a devout Jew might engage in — prayer, giving, fasting, observing the holy days — honoring the Sabbath was most obvious. It was a day for worship and rest — for being, not doing. No work was allowed. And even in modern days, observant Jews don’t work, drive cars, use the oven, or even turn on lights. So as the story opens, Jesus is doing what every devout Jew would be doing ~ going to worship.
We’re also told there was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. He was probably there every Sabbath. This was a local synagogue in a small community. It would have been the same people, sitting in the same seats, week after week.
We don’t know if he had the withered hand since birth or if it was because of an accident or injury. But his condition wasn’t a secret to anyone. People were used to seeing this man, and they didn't even notice him anymore.
We're also told that Jesus' critics were present. The religious leaders were looking for something to pin on Him. They were hoping Jesus would heal this man so they could accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath. The Pharisees believed that healing was work, and work wasn’t allowed on the Sabbath. The Law allowed for exceptions in cases of emergency, but this wasn’t an emergency. The man certainly could live with it for another day. When Jesus asked this man to stand up, these leaders must have been licking their chops. He had fallen right into their trap.
Jesus asked this man to stand up because He wanted people to see the man differently. Not just to see him, but to look at him, to pay attention to him, to think about his condition. The truth is, they probably didn't want to notice him. He made them uncomfortable. They thought his condition was the result of some sin that he or his parents committed. Good religious people trained themselves not to look at people like him. He was a distraction from worship, not to mention, a sinner.