Lessons from a withered hand

Matthew chapter 12 records a spicey little encounter between Jesus, a man with a withered hand, and the Pharisees (Matthew 12:9-14). This snappy little event unfolded inside a local synagogue, enabled by an innocent bystander who had a withered hand. Deceitfully ceasing the opportunity, the Pharisees tried yet again to trap Jesus in His words. Hoping to identify some inconsistency or contradiction with their laws, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Mat 12:10). As the Pharisees considered healing to be “work,” they hoped to accuse Jesus of breaking their sabbath rules of rest.

Jesus, knowing the Pharisees intent, and realising the opportunity to teach onlookers, plus to do a life changing miracle for the withered handed man, goes along with it. Typical of Jesus when confronted by the Pharisees, he answers them with another question. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? (Matthew 12:11). Realising the many Sabbath rules created by the Pharisees which surpassed the Old Testament law, Jesus personalises the issue, aiming for their hearts.

They should have realised that Jesus wasn’t about to approve of people disobeying God’s law, nor was He going to give authority to religious, manmade rules. Jesus knew, as did the Pharisees, Deuteronomy 22:4 (NIV), If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet. However, according to the Pharisees rules, this would be considered work, and not to be done on the sabbath. The Pharisees had elevated their rules to such a heightened authority, that rules came before the wellbeing of animals and people. There was no way that Jesus was going to approve of such a system.

Masterfully, Jesus answers His question for the antagonistic Pharisees. Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). Everyone present would have understood Jesus correct application of God’s law while also recognising the foolishness of manmade religious rules that leave no room for compassion. People are of infinitely greater worth! Here, Jesus qualifies healing as “good,” and yes, it can be done on the sabbath. So, in front of everyone, Jesus instructs the man to “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other (Matthew 12:13).

Obvious to everyone, would have been that this was an effortless miracle performed by Jesus. No physical work of any kind was necessary, yet in that moment of time, Jesus did heal the withered hand. Once again, the self-righteous Pharisees were ensnared by their own trap. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him (Matthew 12:14). Rather than accept the lesson from Jesus with humility, these religious leaders dived deeper into their hypocrisy. Blinded by their evil motives and intensions, they were happy to devise wicked plans (Proverbs 6:18) in violation of God’s law by planning to kill Jesus.

While it’s easy to see the Pharisees faults, we like they, find it easy to confuse our priorities and values in our Christian walk. The Pharisees would have been better to pray the prayer of David in Psalm 19:13, Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. May this be our prayer today. May love for Christ and others motivate us to never permit sin the authority it seeks.

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