A man sits in a house of worship, struggling with despair, staring at his useless hand. He couldn’t harness an ox, hold a plow, slaughter an animal or build a shelter. Total ruin for his family loomed. He’d beg, but his wife and children would be sold into slavery.
Others entered into the worship space, with them a teacher, Jesus. He stood before the despairing man.
“Stand up. Let us see you.”
He rose reluctantly, expecting to be shamed. Slowly, other conversation ceased.
Jesus looked at the man’s hand, then asked this question to those gathered on that day to worship and honor the Lord God, “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”
No one answered, their religious teachers having stated clearly that no work must be done this day. The teachers themselves hoped this pest called Jesus would overstep his bounds so they could pounce upon him and declare him evil, boosting their own reputations and power.
“Hold out your hand.”
The despairing man reached with his good hand to lift the worthless one. What had been cold and lifeless grew strong and warm. In silence, he raised it high for all to see.
“You see!” said one of the teachers. “We told you — this Jesus is evil. It’s against the law to heal on the Day of Rest.” They started making plans to silence Jesus.
Now, this story comes from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 3. We find it easy to condemn those teachers for lack of sympathy to the ill and infirm. But, why did Jesus feel the need to antagonize them? Surely he could have waited a day.
Assuming that urgency was not the driving issue, what would it have hurt Jesus to cut the teachers some slack and concede that they had a legitimate point about his Day of Rest activities? He could have gained favor with that attitude and very likely have bought more time for ministry — and even more healings. So, what’s the big deal?
It may be this: This story illustrates Jesus’ reversal of one of the greatest and most destructive of human weaknesses: to refrain from doing good, relieving suffering and opposing evil when faced with powerful opposition that could harm us in return.
Several years ago, a novel called The Help made the best-seller lists. Many wondered whether a white woman, Kathryn Stockett, even had the right to write this book, which tells the painful stories of black maids who served white households and raised white babies in the Deep South.
Even so, the book was made into a movie that was quite highly rated, and which did a pretty good job of following the original story line. The main white character, “Skeeter” Phelan, a young woman of considerable privilege, finds herself in deep sympathy with those maids.
In time, she earns the trust of some of these women and puts together a book of their stories. The greater her sympathies grow, the more opposition she faces from her contemporaries. When the book is published — even with the author given as “anonymous” in order to protect the women who had spoken out — Skeeter becomes a pariah in her town, with only a few sticking by her side. She pays dearly for seeking healing and justice.
It’s a good story — and makes the same point as did Jesus in the Mark 3 story. It costs to stand up to evil and misused power. Those who question the status quo, especially a status quo that protects the privileged in some way, will nearly always suffer afterward.
But it is what we are asked to do if we want to call ourselves children of the Lord God. No one is exempt from that call.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .