This sermon was given by Rev Caroline on Wednesday 17 January 2018.
3Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then 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. 5He 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. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
A couple of months ago I was given a chilli plant that was well established with a small fruit already growing and several flowers. It was full of promise as I dutifully watered it a tiny bit each day (as instructed). A second fruit appeared and the first ripened. All was going well until I suddenly noticed, one day, those tell tale signs that the leaves were withering at the edges. Everything I did to try and reverse the process that had started were in vain. The plant withered and died.
Our gospel reading today, however, tells us that, unlike my chilli plant, whatever has withered up in our lives – whether that be physically, emotionally or spiritually can, unlike my plant, be made whole again.
When a muscle withers it looses strength and size. For the man that Jesus healed, this would have prevented him from working, it would sap his energy and make tasks more challenging. It is likely that he would have been financially dependant too. Likewise, at those times in our lives when we feel emotionally withered, our energy becomes sapped, we may struggle to connect with others and life feels more challenging.
Jesus is speaking words of Healing not only into these times but into those times when we struggle in our walk with God and our ability to hear his voice withers a bit. Jesus is encouraging us that we need to respond to take his outreached hand and we will be drawn back to Him. Wholeness and Healing can be restored in our lives. Jesus shows us, too, that we can take him by the hand at any time ….even on the Sabbath. Nothing is too difficult for God! Unlike my story about the hapless chilli plant, the withering that happens in our lives can be reversed at any time. We just need to be ready to receive God’s Healing in the way that he knows that we need it to manifest in our lives.
The frustration that Jesus feels when testing the onlookers about healing on the Sabbath is a key part of this passage. Imagine the scene. They are in the synagogue on the Sabbath and everyone knows the laws regarding what one can and cannot do. People know that Jesus has broken these rules before and, by asking the the man to step forward, the tension will have been tangible and coming to a head as he asks them if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.
Jesus is feeling a righteous anger that the law and rules for life were a barrier to loving action towards others. These people at the synagogue were being cruel to the patient by denying his healing. They were also being cruel to the one who came to help him.
Jesus once said (Matthew 12:30) that if we are not for him then we are, by definition, against him. The onlookers’ silence showed a hardness of heart. Their refusal to choose Christ and to see God’s kingdom draw near doing good and saving life rather than the opposite was sin.
Even though he felt anger in his heart, though, Jesus did not sin. He led by example. He led by his healing touch healing the man and restoring him to fullness of life. He led by revealing the kingdom of God drawing near. He channeled his anger into an astounding release of spiritual freedom instead of the straight Jacket of rules that were choking spiritual life.
Instead of gardening his own heart in response to theirs, though, Jesus invites them in and asks “Which of you that had a donkey or ox, would not pull it out of the ditch on a Sabbath day? Then is not a man’s life more valuable than an ox or donkey?”
In Matthew 6:2 Jesus taught, “God takes care of lilies of the field, birds in the air. How much more are you, a human life, to God?” God wants us to know that we are the most precious, valuable, thing to Him that He ever created! We are precious to God and, of course he wants to bless us with his healing in our lives.
As Jesus asks the man to stretch out his hand, it is interesting to notice that he stretches out the hand that he struggles to use. The withered hand. Normally our instinct is to hide away the things that we struggle with in our lives. Instead, the man offers exactly that to Jesus showing us that that Jesus invites us to bring the parts of our lives that are withered and boldly offer them to him for healing.
Instead we pretend that all is well because we may feel embarrassed or not want to burden others.
Jesus needs us to hand the withered parts of our lives to him. He instructs us to stretch out our hands ….the hands that can receive strength, grow, move muscles.
Let us pause for a few moments and bring to mind the hands that may be feeling withered in our own lives. Hold that image in your mind’s eye and talk to Jesus about it. Imagine Jesus gazing upon you with the eyes and heart of love and compassion. When you are ready, visualise reaching out your hand to seek his healing touch.
As we come to Communion I invite you to light a candle to symbolise the light of God’s love bringing you healing.