Summary: In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus teaches us about what the Sabbath is through His healing of a man with a withered hand. This sermon explains what the Jews believed about the Sabbath, and how we can apply the Sabbath as modern Christians.
In the movie The Incredibles, there is a scene where ex-Super Hero Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, has a confrontation with his boss. Mr. Incredible has been forcibly retired from the hero business for years, and is working at an insurance company. He is doing a good job, but too good of a job. He helps his clients get the most out of their policies and claims by helping them to navigate the inner workings of the company. This did not go unnoticed by his boss, who is frustrated by the amount of money they are losing from his help. As the boss yells at Mr. Incredible, our hero notices a guy is getting mugged outside of his office. Mr. Incredible exclaims, “That man is being mugged! We have to do something!” As he walks out to go help, his boss says, “Leave this office, and you will be fired. Turn around, and come back here.” Mr. Incredible then notices the robber grabbing the man’s wallet and walking away. He said, “He got away!” His boss then said, “Good. Let’s just hope he is not one of our customers.”
In the second half of our Gospel text, Jesus finds Himself in a similar dilemma. In the synagogue, Jesus sees a man with a withered hand who needs His help. Jesus knows what He needs to do and what needs to be done. However, the religious establishment does not allow Him to do it. They tell Him, “Don’t do it! Do not heal him, it is not allowed on the Sabbath.” As Jesus finds Himself in this dilemma, He teaches us about the Sabbath Day. Our text shows what the Jews thought about it, what Jesus thought, and what the Sabbath means for us today.
As Jesus enters into the Synagogue, there is a man there with a withered hand. The word for “withered” means “dried up.” You can picture the man’s hand was twisted, wrinkled, locked, and lifeless. It is does not work, and it is useless. His hand is simply along for the ride. As Jesus comes in, the Pharisees are intently watching Him, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse. They want to catch Him breaking the Sabbath. The Pharisees believed that healing would be wrong and that it would break the Law because healing is considered “work” to them. They think they got Jesus in their hands.
The Pharisees were rigid and unbending in their understanding of the Sabbath. They believed that absolutely no work could be done on the Sabbath, and they added many of their own laws, rules, and interpretations to make sure that no work would be done. Consider some of their rules. They believed that medical attention could only be given on the Sabbath if a life was in danger. If a woman was in labor, it was iffy if they could help. If a wall fell on a person, they could move enough to see if the person was alive or dead, but could not move the body or help until the next day. You could not attend to a fracture. You could not pour cold water on a sprained hand or foot. You could bandage a would, but you could not use ointment. In short, you could only keep it from getting worse. You could not make them better, that would be work.
This rigidness also extended beyond the medical sphere. You could not prepare meals on the Sabbath. Scribes could not have a pen on nor tailors a needle! That could lead to work! In the Maccabean Wars, soldiers would not fight and defend themselves on the Sabbath, and they got slaughtered! With their rules and interpretations, safe to say, Jesus would break the Sabbath by healing him. To them, man was made for the Sabbath.
Never one to back down from a fight, Jesus takes the bait, and summons the man. He literally says, “Rise in the midst of the group.” And there are two reasons for this request. He wants everyone to see and witness this event. He wants him up and in the middle. The second is this. As a teenager, my family would go to an event called Peds in the Weeds, which was a picnic for any child with cancer and their families. It was hosted by the Pediatric Oncologists and paid for by them. While it was a fun day, it would also be an emotionally draining one, as well. You saw suffering kids everywhere! You would see kids in wheel chairs from their treatments. You saw children bald from the effects of chemo. Others would be lethargic, weak, pasty white, and sick looking from the disease. As you would see these children and their families, you could not help but feel sympathy for them and what they were going through. I could relate with some of them. It was tough to see so many hurting and wounded people. Seeing them evoked a variety of emotions like love, pity, and sadness. It is the same here. Hopefully by seeing the man with the withered man, the Pharisees could come to their senses. Maybe their sympathy and emotions would move them, but it doesn’t.