Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Jesus is stirring things up again. He’s cured a paralysed man, controversially telling him his sins were forgiven in the process, adding to controversy by then mixing with and, horror of horror, sharing meal fellowship with ‘sinners’ – folk considered to be beyond the pale!
Will he never learn to stop courting the displeasure of the powerful? Well, obviously not, as he deliberately not only heals another person with a disability, but does so on a Sabbath. Worse still, he rubs their faces in it by first challenging them with the ethical question of whether it is lawful to save life on the day of rest? Their silent answer is a negative and Jesus’ ire is raised.
No ‘gentle, meek and mild’ Jesus here – his anger is evident at their lack of compassion and, instantly, and with passion, restores the man to full fitness, further offending his opponents and setting them on the road to put and end to this trouble-maker! Meanwhile he sets off to continue his healing and teaching ministry elsewhere. I write this still in the grip of a global pandemic restrictions, when there has been criticism of Church Leaders who have dared to enter the world of political controversy by questioning the government’s approach and the effectiveness of its Covid policies.
One Tweet suggested that the ‘Bishops’ [sic] should keep their noses out and stick to spiritual matters. In the face of deaths and suffering that might be made worse by national policy, today’s reading would answer the question of WWJD? After all as the URC Basis of Union says, ‘In the things that affect obedience to God, the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.’
Will we Christians never stop stirring things up? I do hope not!
Radical God who calls us to passion for life and the living, guide us and encourage us; to speak up for those without a voice; to stand alongside those who stand alone; to share energy with those too weary or ground down to fight any longer; and to have the wisdom to know when, where and how to stir things up when circumstances demand. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark, URC Minister in the Bridport & Dorchester Joint Pastorate