So here we are on a Sunday night when you could be doing anything else but sitting in a church- but here we are.
There are a lot of different reasons people come to church; some because they’ve always done it- some because they feel like they should-some because they‘ve been guilted into it. Some come to church because they love God and some because they fear God and some because they want to know God and some to just give God one more shot to be real.
The man in the passage most likely didn’t go to church… well, temple. He had this thing; you see… this thing that he carried around with him that made him less than normal--- less than acceptable to the community; especially the faith community. This thing, this affliction the man carried with him, the text calls a “withered hand.” Because of his illness he was labeled “unclean”- And the religious rules and laws said that because he had this thing, he was unable to associate with the people at the temple. You see, back in the day, if you had an affliction that made you unclean, it was known that it was most likely the result of your sin or your parents sin- so in other words, it was your fault.
Anyone unfortunate enough to touch one of these unclean folks, would have to go through major priestly purification rituals and a lengthy separation from the community- and there would be burning of incense and chanting of prayers and who needs that when it is just so much easier to keep the unclean riff raff out of the temple all together? This way “normal”people could go about their lives and not have to deal with possibly getting infected or affected by those who were “unclean.”
Now- if you were the one who had a withered hand or some other affliction, you did have another option. You could try to hide it… for instance you could just keep the hand inside your coat or your shirt sleeve or tunic or whatever… you had the option not to show people what you suffered from, and possibly no one would find out and you could sit in temple and interact with folks. But like any of us who carry around something we have to constantly live with but then have to hide- if we are successful at hiding it… it becomes exhausting- and frankly easier just to stay away.
Then there’s the whole shame factor- ‘well, you brought yourself- you made bad choices- you are just weak willed… sinner!"
And let's not forget self deprecation ”I brought this on myself… I made bad choices, I’m weak willed… I'm a sinner.” And if you get good enough at that, you don’t want to do anything at all.
The man with the withered hand most likely didn’t come to the temple on his own. Most likely he was a set up. A plant-paid off by the Pharisees (the religious leaders) to attend worship that day as part of a plan to trap Jesus into doing something against the rules. If they could catch him breaking the law, they could call Jesus a fake.
They know Jesus can’t help being a do good healer- he helps anybody, no matter what the consequences- so this would be the perfect set up. After all, no authentic prophet would do anything against the religious laws- including healing on the Sabbath! We don't know why the man with the withered hand agreed to be a part of it. Maybe he needed the money. Maybe he was angry at the people who had cast him out so long ago and wanted payback. Or maybe he had one grain of hope that Jesus could in fact heal him. Sometimes we don't know the reason why we end up in a place where we thought we would never be... but there we are.
So everyone goes into the temple and Jesus is there and the withered hand guy is there and the Pharisees are there and worship begins and everyone is in a stare down to see who is going to blink first. And, just as the Pharisees thought he would, Jesus blinks- and he stands up in the middle of the aisle and calls out across the room to the man with the withered hand- “Hey You! Come here!”
And the man begins to get up but he suddenly feels paralyzed. His heart speeds up and his mouth goes dry and his withered hand slides deeper into the pocket of his coat… and he thinks,"Oh my God, he knows... why did I agree to do this? Why did I come here?”
And Jesus calls again: "please... come." And from somewhere inside he finds the strength to get up- and even though the room begins to spin, he begins to make his way toward the Christ.
But halfway down the aisle he feels the eyes of judgment staring at him and he stops himself…
And Jesus begins to speak again- not to him this time, but to the people of the temple- “Tell me- which suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”(Message) And no one said a word-
So Jesus begins looking people in the eye around the room, one after another. He is furious with them- but at the same time he is broken hearted at what he sees. This was not how it was supposed to be... this was not how God intended the law to be interpreted- instead of keeping the law as a guide, and using them to learn the ways of love and compassion, the people had made them into tools of power and oppression…using them to manipulate and exclude. They had twisted and misused God's law to the point that it was as withered and misshapen as the man's hand. And it cuts Jesus to the core...
The room stays frozen-another stare down... Jesus blinks again- and he walks toward the man with the withered hand- stone still and now weeping in the aisle... He can’t look up at Jesus- he is so filled with guilt and shame that he just stands there – hand still tucked in his pocket. And Jesus, now toe to toe and focused solely on him, whispers- “Show me your hand”
And slowly the man draws the withered hand from his pocket and holds it up to the light coming from Jesus’ face.
And this is the part where I am supposed to tell you how the story turns out-to tell you that the man was healed- to tell you he never had to worry about that damn hand again! Wouldn’t it be great if life were like that? Wouldn't it be wonderful if being 'healed' meant that we would have no more struggle- no more battle- that we could just put all our faith in God and we then would have a care-free, stress-free, addiction-free life?
But I’m not sure that is what we are supposed to learn from this passage tonight. I’m not so sure that the healing moment that day in the temple had anything to do with the man’s hand getting better. The healing moment, instead, was when Jesus asked him to hold out his hand and he did it. The healing happened the minute he knew that Jesus was inviting and welcoming him into the light of his love and the man said 'yes.'
For the most part, we all possess a withered hand- something in our life that we carry around with us that needs healing. Some of us have deeper pockets than others so we’re able to hide it better, but we all have them: the people in the temple that day who were so intent on setting Jesus up, and the ones that were just there for the show, and the ones who were there out of responsibility or there out of guilt or fear or even the ones there to give God one more shot-all of them- and all of us- have hands tucked in pockets- and it can wear on us to the point where we feel paralyzed.
And we can feel so bad about ourselves, and our own inability to beat the problem, or overcome, or be free of it, that even when we hear God calling us “please…come…” we stop ourselves halfway there. And we stand there with the room spinning surrounded in shame- thinking "I can’t go one more step- I can't go back one more time… I’ve been down this road so many times before, only to fail over and over…” And for that moment the silence is deafening and the everything freezes…
And then Jesus blinks… “Show me your hand”…
And from somewhere inside us we gather the strength to lift whatever we are carrying and bring it into the light of his face… from somewhere inside us we find the strength to say 'yes' one more time… to let the one who knows every part of us into the most hidden parts of our lives.
And let me tell you what we get in return: forgiveness from the one who doesn't condemn, love from the one who doesn't berate, hope from the one who doesn't punish, even after all the times we've messed up. New life from the one who sees you, not as a failure, but as holy, and blessed, and perfect. You get to know a God who loves you unconditionally, a God who sees us as valuable, and precious. When is the last time you thought of yourself as valuable and precious? Yet that is exactly how God sees you... sees all of us... and who calls you even now as he stands in our midst... "show me your hand."