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"The Man With The Withered Hand"

January 19, 2011

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The cure of the man with the withered hand is part of the collection of Sabbath stories, where Jesus argued for a more humane interpretation of the meaning of ‘no work’ on the Sabbath. The setting is familiar. Jesus is present in the synagogue as an invited preacher. The room is packed and in the congregation are scribes and Pharisees who have made it a point to be present to catch him out on any of his unorthodox explanations. But Jesus goes one better. He will not only speak out, he will also act. His eyes fasten on a man in the crowd whose right hand is paralyzed. The rabbis debated among themselves under what condition it was legitimate to seek medical help on the Sabbath. But Jesus wants a quick and clear answer: “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good as I intend, or to do evil as you intend, by your plotting against me?” Why can you not see that this act of healing can truly glorify God, as the Sabbath is really meant to be? His opponents glowered at him in silence, nor did anyone else contradict him. So Jesus went ahead and cured the man, restoring the power of his hand back to him. The Pharisees, the lawyers and the members of the religious establishment were furious. Jesus had challenged their understanding of the Sabbath and exposed their hypocrisy. He had defied the most visible symbol of their control system and demolished it in public. They could not beat him in argument. They could not ridicule him. There was only one alternative: he had to be eliminated. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, the good person is a threat to a social order that is built on deceit and corruption.
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