Once again, Jesus encounters controversy on the Sabbath. The attitude of the Pharisees in the synagogue only confirms their short sightedness when it comes to actually keeping the Sabbath for what it is, time set aside to worship God, giving him thanks, blessing and honor. The format for such worship in Jesus’ day was much the same as ours. People gather for worship, the Scriptures are read and then a teacher interprets the text for those gathered. Finally, the opportunity arises to put the teaching into practice. In our text, Jesus does this by healing the man with the withered hand; yet, those plotting against him fail to see the true nature of God’s healing.
How often are we like those plotting against Jesus? How often do we fail to hear the teaching of Holy Scripture because we are too busy plotting? Contempt for worship takes place in nearly every congregation that gathers on Sunday. While some are busy wondering how they are going to straighten out that which they perceive has gone amiss in their church, others complain about the service itself. “The service or the sermon is too long.” “We don’t like the hymns or they are unfamiliar.” “Why must we stand and sit?” And the one that simply breaks my heart each time I hear it, “Why do we have so much Holy Communion?” Just as the Pharisees made strict regulation concerning “how to” we often do likewise and fail to understand the “because, therefore.”
Most churches have a pattern for worship; Lutherans call this “liturgy.” Liturgy (work of the people) is a means whereby each person may enter into the congregation worship, not because of duty or obligation, but through thanksgiving to God for his many blessings. Allowing liturgy to become a burden is something we all struggle with from time to time. Some pay close attention to see if candles are lit in the proper order. Others watch carefully to be sure children are behaving correctly. Would be Pharisees are quick to point out the errors of ritual or practice. And still others are there to grumble at most things that simply don’t fit their definition of what is right. Just when it seems we are at our worst for worship, enter the man with the withered hand.
When Jesus perceived the plotting of the Pharisees, he called forward the man in need of healing. Jesus then put the question before the Pharisees, what is right…what is wrong? It is the same question faced by Christians today, “Are we to focus on strict observance of rules and regulations, or should we focus our attention on God and his mercy? From God’s perspective, nothing Jesus did was out of the ordinary. When you think about it, God’s healing love made manifest in Christ comes to God’s people in worship and prayer. We ought not be so focused on our own definitions on what is permissible and what is correct lest we miss the miracle of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ.
Yes, the sermon may be too long; the service may extend past the one hour time limit. But keeping the Sabbath as time for worship and contemplating the mysteries of God brings healing balm to our otherwise withered selves. It is Jesus who calls us forward and asks us to extend our hands. He is the one who also heals our human condition by filling our withered sinful hands with Bread of Life and Cup of Blessing. Thanks be to God!