Homily for January 18th, 2017. Mark 3:1-6.
Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. The healings already recounted by Mark in the first two chapters of his gospel have brought Jesus the reputation of a powerful healer. The man with the withered hand is probably well known to the local community. It is no wonder therefore, that the people in the synagogue on watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they might accuse him,” Mark explains. Jesus has just begun his 3-year pubic ministry. But already there are signs of the hostility which will bring him to the cross.
Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Come up here before us,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save a life rather than to destroy it?” To which those watching give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes flocking to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.
Jesus’ critics are infuriated. They meet at once with the friends of the puppet ruler, Herod, who serves at the pleasure of the Roman rulers of the land, to see how they can rid themselves of Jesus by putting him to death.
None of this remains unknown to Jesus. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.