Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Withered hearts

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 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
. Mark 3:1 - 5 (TNIV, abridged)

The following article "Withered hearts" was written by Amy Boucher Pye, published in “Christian Today” May 22, 2009. It is a thoughtful reflection.

Today's story follows another sabbath controversy, when the disciples were picking grain (2:23 - 28). Here Jesus enters the synagogue and sees not only the man with the withered hand but also those with shrivelled hearts who are wanting to accuse him.

Jesus heals the man with a simple command, unlike the healers of his time who used complicated incantations. Maimed and de-formed people were barred from the temple, so his healing also ushered in social acceptance.

The Pharisees were watching Jesus' every move, for breaking the sabbath could result in death according to Old Testament law. Jesus is angry with their 'stubbornness'. The word used means a closed mind when it comes to spiritual truths. An equivalent Hebrew word is used of Pharaoh in the events of the Exodus.

Sensing their criticism, Jesus shows how he is the fulfilment of the Law. By simply speaking (and therefore not breaking the rules), he heals the man and ushers in the kingdom of God that he will be heralding in the days to come. It's easy to caricature the Pharisees, but we too can fall into this hardness of heart.

When we give up hope or insist on having our own way, we are not obeying the heavenly vision. Perhaps we've been in a relationship where we've been hurt and we fear to extend forgiveness, or something longed for hasn't materialised or we are given over to grumbling. Jesus invites us to a place of healing and restoration. Just as he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand,' he says these words to us: 'Stretch out your heart and let me make you whole.'

Some questions to consider:

Are you experiencing a hardness of heart? Hopelessness? Are you spending enough time with God in prayer?


* The image above is from the Brooklyn Museum Collection
"The Man with the Withered Hand" 1886-1896 by Artist James Tissot French

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