Religious Abuse

Remember back to a movie you watched, or a book you read, where, at the end, it was a total shock. The butler didn’t do it after all, or the bad guy repents and destroys the really bad guy, or the girl gets the other guy (who’s not a “frog” after all), and so on. It’s about to happen to you again…

Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent.

Mark 3:1-4 NET

The scene is a synagogue, no surprise there. The man with a withered hand is where he can’t be missed as Jesus entered, weird, but not a problem. There is a “they” watching Jesus closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, as if Jesus would hide it. This is a trap…obviously (see Proverbs 1:17-18).

 You see the setup, you can probably guess what will happen next, but notice a few interesting details:

After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him.

Mark 3:5-6 NET

Notice how Jesus feels. He is grieved and angered by their “hardness of heart”. The people had used a human being with an obvious problem, a problem they probably assumed was the result of sin. They may have even told him this was a way to “atone” for such a sin, but probably not. It’s likely they didn’t care, even that much for him. 

The man stands there “among all the people”, probably hiding his withered hand in his cloak, embarrassed and ashamed, wishing very much to be somewhere else. He is on display, something he probably avoided. And Jesus asks those people whether it was “lawful” to do good or evil on the Sabbath, to save a life or destroy. 

Time for the reversal: Who are you in the story? Are you one of Jesus’ bewildered disciples? Are you the embarrassed man on display? Do you see yourself as Jesus? Or are you “those people”? It is probably a good exercise for all of us to spend some time viewing ourselves as “those people”.

What do you do on Sunday that seems holy but is actually quite profane or common? What does your church do that uses the gathering of people, rather than experiences our Savior’s presence? At what point has your worship become more about you than your Creator? In short, when has your worship grieved and angered your Savior?

For “those people” in the synagogue that day, the Sabbath was more about their rules than a man who needed help. Their rules about the practice were more important than those practicing. This grieved and angered their Creator. And in many ways, we are they. And we often worship among them.

Jesus leaves them empty and frustrated. They wanted to accuse Him. Instead, He tells the man to stretch out his hand. There’s no rule against that. Jesus didn’t make mud, which is like the potter. No one was carrying anything. There was no rabbinic writing specifically prohibiting stretching out your hand, or miraculous healing on the Sabbath. But in their minds and hearts it was obviously WORK! How dare He!

Frustrated in their desire to accuse Jesus according to their traditions and interpretations of the Sabbath, they opt for assassination plots with the local Roman collaborating politicians. That is what these “faithful Jews” were reduced to in order to overcome Jesus. It is almost as if they said in their hearts, “If he will break the law, so will we!” But it is more likely that the law was never in view here, only their status based on how they used the law.

So, what frustrates us? Is it how people abuse the church, or how the church abuses others? Which option glorifies our Savior? Actually, I think it’s fairly obvious that neither option does. Those aren’t the only two options. Sometimes we can’t see the flaw until we view ourselves from the uncomfortable position. 

Here’s a better question: What did Jesus want to see in “those people” that He didn’t see? That’s what we are supposed to be, how we are to respond. We are to be the people our Savior wants to see. Let’s make our Savior smile. 

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