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Jesus Heals on the Sabbath, Pharisees Complain (Mark 3:1-6)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Heals a Man with a Withered Hand

Jesus Heals a Man with a Withered Hand

    1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3 And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
    5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.
    Compare: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

Why Does Jesus Heal on the Sabbath?

Jesus’ violations of Sabbath laws continue in this story of how he healed a man’s hand in a synagogue. Why was Jesus in this synagogue on this day — to preach, to heal, or just as an average person attending worship services? There’s no way to tell. He does, however, defend his actions on the Sabbath in a manner similar to his earlier argument: the Sabbath exists for humanity, not vice-versa, and so when human needs become critical, it is acceptable to violate traditional Sabbath laws.

There is a strong parallel here with the story in 1 Kings 13: 4-6, where king Jeroboam’s withered hand is healed. It is unlikely that this is a coincidence — it is probable that Mark deliberately constructed this story to remind people of that tale. But to what end? If Mark’s purpose is to speak to the post-Temple age, well after Jesus’ ministry would have been over, he may have been trying to communicate something about how people can follow Jesus without also having to follow every rule that the Pharisees argued Jews had to obey.

It is interesting that Jesus isn’t shy about healing someone — this stands in stark contrast to earlier passages where he had to flee the throngs of people seeking help. Why isn’t he shy this time? That isn’t made clear, but it may have something to do with the fact that we are also seeing the development of the conspiracy against him.

Plotting Against Jesus

Already when he enters the synagogue, there are people watching to see what he does; it’s possible that they have been waiting for him. It seems that they were almost hoping he would do something wrong so that they could accuse him — and when he heals man’s hand, they run off to plot with the Herodians. The conspiracy is growing larger. Indeed, they are seeking a means to “destroy” him — thus, it isn’t just a conspiracy against him, but a plot to have him killed.

But why? Surely Jesus wasn’t the only gadfly running around making a nuisance of himself. He wasn’t the only person claiming to be able to heal people and challenging religious conventions. Presumably this is supposed to help raise Jesus’ profile and make it seem that his importance was recognized by the authorities.

That, however, couldn’t be due to anything Jesus said — Jesus’ secrecy is an important theme in Mark’s gospel. The only other source of information about this would be God, but if God caused the authorities to pay more attention to Jesus, how could they be held morally culpable for their actions? Indeed, by doing God’s will, shouldn’t they receive an automatic place in heaven?

The Herodians may have been a group of supporters of the royal family. Presumably their interests would have been secular rather than religious; so if they were to bother with someone like Jesus, it would be for the sake of maintaining public order. These Herodians are only mentioned twice in Mark and once in Matthew — never at all in Luke or John.

It’s interesting that Mark describes Jesus as getting “angry” here with the Pharisees. Such a reaction may be understandable with any normal human being, but it’s at odds with the perfect and divine being that Christianity made out of him.

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