This is the Jesus I love so much. The religious authorities are out to get him, he knows it, and he’s not afraid. It’s not that he’s not afraid because he’s just so tough. He is, but it’s deeper than that. He’s not afraid, because he knows that what is right and good is on his side.
He enters a synagogue and teaches there, and there was a man with a withered hand. And the Pharisees are said to be “watching him to see if he would cure on the sabbath.” Think about that for a moment. These religious leaders aren’t actually interested in what is right and good at all. They’re primary objective is to trap Jesus. They don’t care about this man with the withered hand. They actually don’t even really care about the law. They care about taking down this man who is wreaking havoc on their understanding of their faith and their self-serving religious system. That’s what they care about, and, as I said, Jesus knows it and isn’t afraid of it. Jesus knows what they’re waiting for and he gives it to him. It is because of they’re waiting for it that he says to the man, “come and stand here”. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees as well as the whole congregation, “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”
Two key things are happening in this one question. First, the question is rhetorical. Of course it’s best to save life. And I love that Jesus asks that. It is a reminder that bringing healing and wholeness is always ok. It’s like Jesus is saying, “look, I don’t care what the letter of the law is- restoring life is always good.” Remember the Sabbath command itself is about restoration. Sabbath was never meant to stop us from doing good. It was meant to restore our own souls. So healing a man’s withered hand (such a hand is something likely to make this man’s life quite difficult) is a good thing. By asking the question Jesus makes this patently obvious.
But there’s something else going on here that is more subtle and more condemning. It’s early in the story, but Jesus knows what they ultimately want to do to him, and so do they. They want to trap him in such clear and and deep blasphemy that they can get him killed. They want to destroy him. Essentially Jesus is asking the question, “is it lawful to restore life on the sabbath or destroy it?” He’s saying, “you’re going to destroy me on the sabbath because I saved life on the sabbath?” He’s got ’em. they wanted to trap him, but he trapped them. There’s nothing they can do.
So Jesus looks around, making sure everybody’s understanding what just happened, he tells the man to hold out his hand, and he heals him. He has just fulfilled the spirit of law in breaking the letter of it, and in so doing, he has strengthened the weak, given voice to the voiceless, and empowered the powerless, while at the same time marginalizing the strong. He’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Here’s the question for us: Who are the people in our lives that we would love to trap? Got anybody that drives you nuts that you might try to trap via the letter of the law, that you would love to see “go down”? You probably don’t want him/her dead or want any real harm to come to them, but maybe get in trouble a little bit, right? Maybe lose their job or promotion? I had to pause as I was writing this because a few names came to mind for me. The Scriptures should serve more as a mirror than binoculars. I’ve got some work to do.