Bible Reading: Mark 3:1-5
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
‘Every day’s a school day’, or so the saying goes. It certainly was for the Pharisees who had mingled with the crowd in the synagogue to keep an eye on Jesus. Unphased by their surveillance operation, Jesus turns the tables on his would-be accusers and challenges their interpretation of the laws of Moses, in this case the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.
By healing the man with the shrivelled hand on the Sabbath, Jesus was not undermining the ten commandments, but he was challenging their interpretation of them. Elsewhere he says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. As was the case here, there will always be a clash when legalism comes up against the grace of God as shown to us in the compassion of Jesus.
Throughout the gospels we see the love of God at work in the lives of a very wide selection of people from tax collectors to fishermen; prostitutes to religious leaders; the blind to the lepers; Jews, Samaritans and Arabs; men, women and children. There is no law that limits the grace of God, or that restricts the changes that are possible through faith in him.
When it comes to the clash of law and grace it is possible for us to fall into one of two traps. On the one hand we can think that our understanding of God, and of what is right or wrong, whether it in our families, in the community or in the church, is the only possible understanding. But God is always bigger than our ways of understanding him and, while he will never act outside the remit of the scriptures, he may well act outside our interpretation of them. Let us not let our own legalism limit what God might want to do in the lives of others.
On the other hand, like the man with the shrivelled hand, we may have a need, for healing or for something else, and think that for whatever reason, God may not be willing to meet our need. Again the grace of God will reach beyond our limited understanding. If we have a need, Jesus says to us ‘Stretch out your hand’. Our God is a God who restores, whether it is a withered hand, a relationship or a hope for the future.
Lord Jesus, keep me open my eyes to see the grace of God at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.
Amazing grace, my chains are gone