I looked forward to Synagogue each Sabbath. The congregation had long since let my deformity fade into the background along with much of the weekly ritual. No more stares, no mumbled accusations of hidden sin. I was just another man in the crowd. I liked that.
This morning it was different. I breathed it in the air the moment I stepped inside. The familiar staleness was replaced by a charged sensation that I could neither identify nor ignore. It reminded me of the way the air crackled over the Sea of Galilee just before an approaching thunderstorm hit. I was tempted – in the most literal sense – to turn around and walk out.
In my lifetime, however, if I’ve learned anything at all, I’ve learned that the Sabbath service is not for my benefit, but Jehovah’s. That’s how I endured those years of hushed insinuations.
But this day was different from all the rest.
The room had the feel of a wrestling ring. Though there was no physical demarcation, the opposing sides were settled and well understood by all, the crowd hovering as if with a betting interest.
He was here. The wandering teacher, Jesus, whom all of Capernaum was talking about. The stories were beyond fantastic. They sounded like the imaginings of a madman – healed men, cast-out demons, a voice from heaven, of all things. All accompanied by an irreverence for our customs that some labeled blasphemy.
His accusers faced him, hardly hiding their disdain. The rulers of the synagogue and their superiors, imported no doubt, to help quell any disturbance caused by the recalcitrant rabbi.
And accusers they were. Jesus had hardly sat down but the gnashing of their teeth as they anticipated conflict was already almost audible. He was a marked man in their eyes. Their purpose in the synagogue on this day had nothing to do with the reading of the Law. They were here to lay down the law.
I tried to settle into my normal, comfortable, anonymous spot, but the stare was back. This time it was Jesus! He was looking directly at me. Suddenly I was more conscious than ever of my hand, or rather of the useless clump of flesh that was where my hand should have been. His fascination with my withered appendage didn’t make sense, but neither did his next words. Boring into my eyes with an intensity that he must have learned by drilling wood in his father’s carpentry shop, Jesus said, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
With those few words, Jesus unraveled my entire life. My awkwardness was no longer limited to my hand, but my whole body and soul. Not only his eyes, but those of everyone were fixed on me. Worst were those Pharisees. They glared as if I’d committed some heinous trespass against Yahweh Himself. Couldn’t everyone just leave me alone?
But the words of Jesus were not to be ignored. They didn’t feel like a command, more like an invitation. It wasn’t raw obedience that compelled me to my feet as much it was the honor of being chosen.
Then Jesus asked those leaders, adorned in all the regalia due their offices, but looking shabby and decayed all the same, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
There was no avoiding Jesus’s gaze nor his question, but those imperious men were rendered impotent in his sight. They were as silent and lifeless as the grave.
The appearance of Jesus then transfigured into something that didn’t seem humanly possible. As he passed his gaze over the entire place, he displayed an otherworldy combination of intense anger, profound sadness, utter compassion, and transcendent love. It wasn’t clear who was the target of any of those passions. Perhaps everyone in the room was touched by one or more of them.
My legs started to quiver. It seemed as though a lifetime passed, followed by an extra hour. Jesus said to me, as casually as if he were asking for a crust of bread, “Stretch out your hand.”
Astonishing even myself, I complied. And as I extended my hand, so the hand extended itself. I watched it, my eyes glazing over with awe and tears, and felt it, waves of cleansing pain coursing along my entire arm, as the flesh knitted itself into the complete, flawless form of a human hand – wrist, palm, thumb – Oh! to feel a thumb! – and fingers – four genuine, working fingers. As I twitched those newborn digits, my legs finally gave way and I crumpled to the ground, the tears falling as well.
Jesus hadn’t moved, but the Pharisees were already halfway out the door, the scowls on their faces flint-hard. They had business to conduct on this Sabbath day, and it was to find a way to dispose of this troublesome teacher.
So what’s this all about? Why am I plagiarizing and embellishing Mark 3:1-5? Well, it’s because the story is about me. Which member of this colorful cast am I? Though it’s written in the first person, I’m not the healed man. I’m sure as heaven not Jesus. That leaves those ne’er-do-well Pharisees. How so?
Like them, I often approach Jesus with a chip on my shoulder. I’m not in His presence to worship, honor, or even listen to Him. I’ve got an agenda. And if He doesn’t come through, I’m out of His sight in a heartbeat, looking for a way to get back at Him. Maybe I’ll give Him the silent treatment for a few days. Or act in such a way that it makes Him look bad to those I come in contact with. Better yet (and more personally fulfilling) I’ll commit a blatant sin that I know will tick Him off.
Yeah, that’ll serve Him right.