Withered hands, hardened hearts- Wednesday, 2nd week in ordinary time – Mark 3: 1-6

We are now in the fifth and final controversy stories that are stacked up one after the other in Mark’s Gospel. The narratives build up into a crescendo of hate with a plot to destroy Jesus. The setting is the Sabbath and the place is the synagogue of Capernaum (indicated by the word ‘again’). Jesus has just had a ‘Sabbath run-in’ with the Pharisees on eating grain in the grain field on the Sabbath and now entering the synagogue He encounters a man with a withered hand. The compassionate Jesus cannot turn His eyes away even if it means that he defies the human interpretations of the law.

Like the first controversy (2: 1-12), the fifth controversy is an interweaving of a miracle and a debate showing that Jesus is powerful in both word and deed. Mark’s audience, for whom the Gospel was written, were constantly drawn into a debate with Rabbinic Judaism of the first century on their ‘Christian observances’ of the Sabbath which were more liberal compared to strict Pharisaic practices. This narrative would thus serve as a point of defence of the Early Church’s free attitude towards the Sabbath.

The problem in this episode lies in the nature of illness and the timing of the miracle. Jewish Rabbis were known to permit healings on the Sabbath in cases where the life of a person was threatened by illnesses.  In this case the man’s had was withered, a condition that could have been so from birth and hence not life threatening.  The Pharisees had figured out the compassionate heart of Jesus and knew that He of all people would never walk by; and so they “watched Him” so that they might “accuse Him”.

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