"And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had his hand withered. And they watched Him, whether He would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse Him. And He saith unto the man that had his hand withered, Stand forth. And He saith unto them, Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, He saith unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth: and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him." MARK 3:1-6 (R.V.)
IN the controversies just recorded, we have recognized the ideal Teacher, clear to discern and quick to exhibit the decisive point at issue, careless of small pedantries, armed with principles and precedents which go to the heart of the dispute.
But the perfect man must be competent in more than theory; and we have now a marvelous example of tact, decision and self-control in action. When Sabbath observance is again discussed, his enemies have resolved to push matters to extremity. They watch, no longer to cavil, but that they may accuse Him. It is in the synagogue; and their expectations are sharpened by the presence of a pitiable object, a man whose hand is not only paralyzed in the sinews, but withered up and hopeless. St. Luke tells us that it was the right hand, which deepened his misery. And St. Matthew records that they asked Christ, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? thus urging Him by a challenge to the deed which they condemned. What a miserable state of mind! They believe that Jesus can work the cure, since this is the very basis of their plot; and yet their hostility is not shaken, for belief in a miracle is not conversion; to acknowledge a prodigy is one thing, and to surrender the will is quite another. Or how should we see around us so many Christians in theory, reprobates in life? They long to see the man healed, yet there is no compassion in this desire, hatred urges them to wish what mercy impels Christ to grant. But while He relieves the sufferer, He will also expose their malice. Therefore He makes His intention public, and whets their expectation, by calling the man forth into the midst. And then He meets their question with another: Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day or evil, to save life or to kill? And when they preserved their calculated silence, we know how He pressed the question home, reminding them that not one of them would fail to draw his own sheep out of a pit upon the Sabbath day. Selfishness made the difference, for a man was better than a sheep, but did not, like the sheep, belong to them. They do not answer: instead of warning Him away from guilt, they eagerly await the incriminating act: we can almost see the spiteful subtle smile playing about their bloodless lips; and Jesus marks them well. He looked round about them in anger, but not in bitter personal resentment, for He was grieved at the hardness of their hearts, and pitied them also, even while enduring such contradiction of sinners against Himself. This is the first mention by St. Mark of that impressive gaze, afterwards so frequent in every Gospel, which searched the scribe who answered well, and melted the heart of Peter.
And now, by one brief utterance, their prey breaks through their meshes. Any touch would have been a work, a formal infraction of the law. Therefore there is no touch, neither is the helpless man bidden to take up any burden, or instigated to the slightest ritual irregularity. Jesus only bids him do what was forbidden to none, but what had been impossible for him to perform; and the man succeeds, he does stretch forth his hand: he is healed: the work is done. Yet nothing has been done; as a work of healing not even a word has been said. For He who would so often defy their malice has chosen to show once how easily He can evade it, and not one of them is more free from any blame, however technical, than He. The Pharisees are so utterly baffled, so helpless in His hands, so "filled with madness": that they invoke against this new foe the help of their natural enemies, the Herodians. These appear on the stage because the immense spread of the Messianic movement endangers the Idumaean dynasty. When first the wise men sought an infant King of the Jews, the Herod of that day was troubled. That instinct which struck at His cradle is now reawakened, and will not slumber again until the fatal day when the new Herod shall set Him at nought and mock Him. In the meanwhile these strange allies perplex themselves with the hard question, How is it possible to destroy so acute a foe.
While observing their malice, and the exquisite skill which baffles it, we must not lose sight of other lessons. It is to be observed that no offense to hypocrites, no danger to Himself, prevented Jesus from removing human suffering. And also that He expects from the man a certain cooperation involving faith: he must stand forth in the midst; every one must see his unhappiness; he is to assume a position which will become ridiculous unless a miracle is wrought. Then he must make an effort. In the act of stretching forth his hand the strength to stretch it forth is given; but he would not have tried the experiment unless he trusted before he discovered the power. Such is the faith demanded of our sin-stricken and helpless souls; a faith which confesses its wretchedness, believes in the good will of God and the promises of Christ, and receives the experience of blessing through having acted on the belief that already the blessing is a fact in the Divine volition.
Nor may we overlook the mysterious impalpable spiritual power which effects its purposes without a touch, or even an explicit work of healing import. What is it but the power of Him Who spake and it was done, Who commanded and it stood fast?
And all this vividness of look and bearing, this innocent subtlety of device combined with a boldness which stung His foes to madness, all this richness and verisimilitude of detail, this truth to the character of Jesus, this spiritual freedom from the trammels of a system petrified and grown rigid, this observance in a secular act of the requirements of the spiritual kingdom, all this wealth of internal evidence goes to attest one of the minor miracles which skeptics declare to be incredible.