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

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”.

Jesus blatantly disregards the limitations of their interpretations of the law. He has great regard for the law but he has already made it clear that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus “transcends the parameters of rabbinic debate”. By shifting the goal post to a higher theological virtue of love He draws his followers to cling on to the principles of love and goodness. Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?  Should not a day dedicated to the Lord be filled with goodness rather than the avoidance of goodness in order to be safe in the eyes of the law? Do we please the law for the law’s sake or do we please the God of the law?

Their silence to His question itself betrays their shallow religiosity which was devoid of spiritual depth. Jesus is both angry and grieved that their hearts which should have a clear bent to goodness was tarnished by their greater desire to be merely fulfillers of the letter of the law and not its spirit.   He healed the man with the withered hand, while the Pharisees went away with a withered heart.

Fr Warner D’Souza

References from the JBC

Spread the love ♥

You might also like

One thought on “Withered hands, hardened hearts- Wednesday, 2nd week in ordinary time – Mark 3: 1-6”

  • Faith Hope and Love …. and the greatest of these is Love. Love is the answer always and in all ways. May Jesus heal our withered hearts in the same way He healed withered hands. Amen


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *