“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Mark 3:1-6
It’s hard to believe, but in this story the religious people of the day were actually upset at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. They had believed that the Sabbath meant no work–and somewhere in their tradition and understanding they had classified healing as “work”–and thus prohibited on the Sabbath.
What’s even more tragic is that a genuine miracle occurred right in front of their eyes and they totally missed it. And to put a cherry on top of their “We hate Jesus” sundae, they united in their opposition against him and started planning for a way to kill him.
Look again and you see a downward slide of three stages: (1) Religious tradition is more important than people; (2) Religious tradition can blind us to see God’s unique working in our midst–especially when he does so in ways that are ‘outside of the box’ for us; and (3) Eventually you must choose: either follow some form of religious tradition or follow Jesus–but at some point there is a huge difference.
Now don’t get me wrong. We all have some form of religious tradition. For some of us, we go to a church that is filled with ritual and tradition–and it all points to Jesus. And for others who may attend less formal or less structured services, they still have traditions of how to do things properly and in good working order.
But when we choose to trust our spiritual health to traditions and in our performance of keeping them, instead of trusting in Christ as the One who perfectly kept them for us in God’s eyes–we have crossed a dangerous line.
Now we’ve become people who can mindlessly go through the motions of worship and devotion–and still be hardened in our hearts to the real kind of devotion that Jesus is looking for. It’s like when you drive the same route everyday–you must be careful that you don’t put things in ‘autopilot’ mode and one day find yourself in an accident that was preventable.
The other thing to learn from this story is that Jesus has a way of going against our traditions. Just because we’ve always done church a certain way doesn’t mean that God likes it. Just because we always pray a certain way doesn’t mean God hears it. Just because we always give the same amount of money doesn’t mean that God is pleased.
On a different note, let’s spend a few moments thinking about this man.
In Bible days, to have a withered hand was a real handicap (even today too). Since most labor in Bible days was menial, this meant that you were virtually unemployable and reduced to being a beggar. You couldn’t shake hands with people, do meaningful work, or worship without this stigma (to the Jews who often lifted hands in worship, a withered hand indicated that the person had some kind of secret sin that they were holding onto and that God was judging them for).
Now, this man was free. He could more freely love and interact with others, reach his labor potential AND worship without any kind of stigma.
You are that man. And this is what God wants to do for you in Jesus.
God wants you to experience a new freedom in Him, allowing you to have more meaningful relationships with others, reach your potential, and worship Him without anything holding you back.
Take a moment now–ignore the critics in your head–and stretch out your hand. As you do, pray for Jesus to completely heal your life. You will never be the same!
1. What religious traditions do you keep? Are they meaningful to you? How so?
2. Are you trusting in your religious traditions more than in Jesus? How would you know?
3. Is there a part of your life–a hand–that needs the healing touch of God? Surrender it to Jesus now and see what God does…