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The Sabbath & the Man with the Withered Hand

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Rev. David Collins

June 11, 2023

Markan Sandwich #2

Scriptures: Mark 2:16-17, 23-28, 3:1-6

Megan started this series out last week by talking about the best sandwich she ever had, which also happens to be mine, which if you weren’t here last week, was what they call a debris sandwich in New Orleans, with all the meats they have on hand, and some leftover from the day before, all melted together with cheese. Oh Verte Mart. But my second favorite sandwich has to be leftover thanksgiving sandwiches, which is basically just the same thing, but with less meat and more stuffing and cranberry sauce. One year, we didn’t have any leftovers for sandwiches and it almost ruined Christmas and the following year.

My third favorite kind of sandwich is…wait…this could take all morning.

I should probably get to the scripture.

Today, we’re picking up a little after we left off with Mark last week.

(It’s a grilled cheese with at least 4 kinds of cheese, plus mayonnaise. You can even use mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside of the bread. It gets it really brown. Jesus probably never ate a grilled cheese sandwich, and that’s just one of the ways that he suffered. Speaking of which, let’s get back to him.)

Last week, in Mark 2, Jesus was teaching in a house, and he had become so famous that four friends who wanted Jesus to heal their paralyzed friend broke into that house through the roof.

Now, that level of fame was a threat to the other teachers and leaders in the area, so they started to resent Jesus. They also started to follow what he did very closely, because that’s a thing people do. There are some people that you dislike so much, that you need to know what they’re doing at all times.

There’s a word for that today. It’s known as hate-following. Hate-following is when you follow someone on social media, even though you hate them or hate what they stand for. But sometimes it’s just called reading the newspaper.

For the folks that hate-followed Jesus though, they had to put more effort in. They had to actually follow him around, or get people to do it for them.

So they heard, or saw, that after Jesus healed the paralytic in that house with a new skylight, and forgave his sins, that he went to a tax collection booth and called the man operating it to come and be his newest disciple. And he did! That night, this new disciple threw a dinner party for him and invited all of his tax-collector friends, and they all had an amazing time. But you know what hate-followers say when you’re having a great time.

2:16 ’Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’

Why does he do that? Who does he think he is? And maybe at the root of it all…why doesn’t he want to be one of us?

17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

And if we didn’t have a sandwich to get to, I could make a meal out of that. But there’s one more bit of context to look at, before we get to today’s sandwich. Which is what comes next in Mark.

23 One sabbath he was going through the grain-fields;

The key detail here isn’t where they were, but what day it was. It was the Sabbath. The day when no one could do any kind of work. It was, and sometimes I think it should be still, a whole day set apart to God. But it’s not, for a lot of the same reasons that Jesus and the Pharisees get in an argument here, because someone always wants to take something good, and turn it into something ultimate, a test of who’s in our club and who’s not. Who do we like and who do we hate. That happens here.

and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

They were in such a hurry to get to their next opportunity to teach and to heal that they were taking a short cut through a grain field. They were hungry! And food was right there. One of our commentaries said that this kind of situation was up for debate in Judaism about whether or not it really was a sabbath violation, any way.

24 The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’

And Jesus answers them like the rabbi that he is, having a debate with other rabbis.

25 And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’

There are always exceptions, Jesus says. People being hungry is more important than religious rules. You should already know that! It’s in the Bible. And he concludes it with as pithy of a summary as anyone could come up with.

27 Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;

Wow! That’s succinct. A slam dunk. You cannot argue with that. And if he had just stopped there, he might have won them over eventually. But he didn’t. Instead, he said what he said next:

28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’

Yikes. I mean, “Awesome and Amen!” But…that’s a big statement. It’s true. We know it’s true. Jesus knew it was true. And after his resurrection, so will everyone who believes. But those Pharisees sure didn’t know it was true! That’s a lot to drop on people who hate-follow you.

This statement did not set Jesus up to make peace with the Pharisees any time soon. We’re just about to get to the sandwich, where this whole thing will come to a head, but before we do, let’s talk about what Jesus is doing here, and whether or not we are supposed to follow in his footsteps.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had times in my life, call it “most of the time” when I wanted everyone to like me a lot. The best way to get my attention was to seem like you didn’t like me. I’d ignore my actual loved ones because someone somewhere, who didn’t really know me at all, didn’t like me. I felt like I’d do just about anything to get them to like me again. To earn their respect. I rationalized it as being a peacemaker. Being humble. But do you know who I realize was?

Charlie Brown. Trusting Lucy…yet again…to hold the football so I could kick it. But she never will! Some people just want to control you, and nothing you do will ever be good enough for them. And even if you do everything right, they might just pull the football away anyway. Just because they can. And if you do say or do something they disagree with, you’re right back where you were with them to begin with.

Jesus doesn’t do that here, does he? Jesus doesn’t bend to try and reconcile with people like that. Instead, he clarifies his beliefs so that there is no room for misinterpretation. He takes the opportunity to say very clearly what he believes. Sometimes that’s the most important thing we can do. Sometimes, we don’t need to make friends. Jesus sure didn’t.

I think we should be more like Jesus.

So that’s the context for today’s story. Now, we’re ready for this sandwich. Like the last one, it’s going to be another public healing done while Jesus is teaching. Ready? Let’s get into it.

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

Having a withered hand meant, for one thing, that this man couldn’t do much work. He couldn’t provide for himself and his family nearly as well as he could if he had two functioning hands.

It also meant that he was seen as less than, as unclean when it came to his religion. There were offerings that he could not make himself. He was a second class. Yet here he is, worshipping God all the same, doing what he is allowed to do, worship in the synagogue.

2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

I think Mark is saying that Jesus’ hate-followers are watching the man with the withered hand, not Jesus. They’re giving him the side-eye. Whispering about him. They’re not talking to him. They’re talking about him. He’s just a pawn to them. But not to Jesus.

3 And he said to the man (that’s the toothpick in the sandwich) who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’

Another translation renders Jesus saying this as “Arise into the midst” So I checked out the Hebrew, and it does indeed say something like “Arise into the middle”. Which is a cooler move than just saying come up here. When all these people are looking at him like an object, Jesus speaks to the man and tells him to arise into the midst of the group he is in. To stand up and take his rightful place in the middle of the people. I think that’s neat.

So the one that everyone was watching, maybe even watching maliciously, is now standing up in the middle of the room, maybe he’s cradling his withered hand.

Now here comes the meat in the sandwich. Or maybe it’s peanut butter and jelly, that’s my fourth favorite. Anyway, here’s the filling.

4 Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’

They know the answer to this rhetorical question. Of course the Sabbath is meant for doing good! Of course it’s meant for saving life! It’s a sign of their covenant with God. Of course it’s meant to show who they really were as God’s chosen people.

But they were silent.

They had no answer because Jesus had them dead to rights. Their silence was as deafening as it still is, whenever people are silent in the face of harm done to others, either directly or through neglect, for the cause of political power. That’s all the Pharisees really cared about, and you’ll see that directly in a few verses.

But I can’t help but think that Jesus is saying this to churches all across our community, this morning. How many sermons are being preached right now, and how many heads are nodding in agreement, that are doing harm to people, that are scapegoating people, that are assassinating people’s character and casting them as less than, as unclean?

It that right? Or is it wrong? And if it’s wrong, what are we doing about it? Are we silent? Are we trying to make peace with them? Are we giving them the benefit of the doubt just one more, or just five more times because this time, maybe they’ll let us kick that football?

Look at how Jesus felt about them then.

5 He looked around at them with anger;

Just imagine that. Jesus of Nazareth standing at the front of a modest room staring daggers at people during his sermon. He’s not trying to see things their way. What they’re not doing is wrong, and he’s rightfully angry about it. There is someone there who needs healing, and they believe the right thing to do, is to do nothing, because of what day it is.

That makes Jesus angry. And so should you be. Any time someone says that people should be hungry, or shouldn’t get healthcare, because of the way it might make someone else feel, you should be angry.

And grieved.

he was grieved at their hardness of heart

Grief. Sadness. Loss. It is a loss for them, and for their communities, that they are acting this way. What was Jesus grieved at? At their hardness of heart. The same word is used for calloused. They just don’t feel for people anymore. Their senses were dulled. They just didn’t care. And it made Jesus feel grief. And very very angry.

That’s the end of the meat. It’s not much meat but it does have a particular flavor. In the middle of doing the right thing, Jesus makes sure that people who disagree with him, who hate-follow him, are paying attention, not to change their minds, but to clarify his position, and make that position ours, too.

Here’s the next toothpick.

and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

It didn’t matter what day it was. And it sure didn’t matter that it mattered a great deal to some powerful people what day it was. Jesus did the right thing because it was the right thing. No matter the consequences.

And I need to point out here that Jesus didn’t actually do any work that was prohibited in the Old Testament on the Sabbath. He didn’t even touch the man. He broke with their traditions and expectations. Most importantly, he showed the Pharisees that their power was only real if people payed attention to them, or tried to compromise with them.

In the next verse, they show their true colors.

6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Obey or die. That’s the point of their religion and their politics. In the end, it’s not about God, or the community, or even keeping their tradition pure, because when they see that there is a person they can’t control, the Pharisees immediately go out and conspire with their enemies to kill the person who threatens their power.

Herodians is Mark’s word for those who work with Rome, who work within Herod’s collaborative kingship that he secures by submitting to Caesar. The Pharisees hate everything they stand for, but yet here they are, working with them to destroy the one who wouldn’t submit to them. And all it took for them to do it was hear the one word they couldn’t tolerate.


Jesus went out of his way to say No to people who didn’t get told that much. He had everything to gain from playing ball with those people, or at least not offending them. And he had everything to lose by opposing them. And yet he still chose to tell them NO.

There is power in resistance.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew a thing or two about resistance, wrote that:

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."

There are so many people who want to control us, what we do and what we say. Including our own instincts, and sometimes even our own understanding of our religion. But this week, let’s remember what Jesus did here. He didn’t let things go. He didn’t let them slide. He said No to people who needed to hear it.

But he also didn’t get distracted from his work. He healed a man who was an outcast. He ate with other outcasts.

He did both. So can we.


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