Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
This story about the man with the withered hand makes it very clear how terrible it was that the Pharisees honored the Law above all else. They really and honestly believed it would be better for Jesus not to help him, simply because it was the Sabbath. That doesn’t even make sense! What better way to bring glory to God on His holy day than to make someone well in His name? Yet this is the danger of making rules and deeds be the driver of our faith. It might be easier in some ways, knowing exactly what you are supposed to do, and being able to measure your success, but it’s dangerous. It is too easy to become “holier than thou” or to forget why we decided to do those things in the first place when we make rules into our idol.
I read a blog post this week about a woman who regretted remaining a virgin until her wedding night. She talked about how proud she always was about waiting, how everyone looked up to her, and how GOOD or righteous she felt. But then, when she was married, she felt ashamed of her lack of virginity. Her virginity had defined her for her entire life, and now she had nothing to tell her who she was. It kept her from being able to sexually connect with her partner and from being happy. She was always ashamed. In her post she blamed the Christian faith for making virginity too important for women, said it was the church’s fault for making her feel this way. But I think this woman, like so many, just found it easy to make rule following more important than faith. She had made her virginity her idol, more important than loving God. She wasn’t saving herself for marriage because she wanted to have that special, God-blessed relationship with her husband. She saved herself because she thought she was supposed to. And that is exactly what Jesus is warning against here. And I know I’ve been there. I’ve felt so righteous and superior for staying home and studying on a Thursday night when all my friends went out and got drunk. But that’s not the point of being a Christian. We do something to bring glory to God, or we shouldn’t do it at all. Doing something to mark it off our checklist of “How to be a good Christian” is not what Jesus wants us to do. That’s what the Pharisees did, and it made them unfeeling and unkind. We need to be wary of this human tendency.
Mark does something here that I can’t ever remember reading in Matthew: he proclaims Jesus the Son of God outside the stories of His baptism and trial. Jesus refers to Himself exclusively as the Son of Man, meaning the writers of the gospels had to find other ways to prove his identity. Matthew did this through prophecy fulfillment, the story of His birth, and His teachings. Mark does this primarily through the miracles Jesus performs. Yet whereas previously in both gospels the demons simply recognized Jesus, here they call out who Jesus is. They call Him the Son of God. And not only does Jesus not deny it, He basically affirms it by saying “don’t tell anyone who I am.” It’s a very important moment for the reader in terms of fully understanding Jesus’s identity.
I don’t really have much to say about the disciples here. Jesus gave them authority to spread His message and cast out demons. My only question: does this authority extend now to ALL followers of Christ, or just the 12 apostles? I mean, clearly I have been commissioned to spread Jesus’s message, but could I cast out demons? A lot of Christians practice exorcisms and obviously believe so. I am also inclined to think I probably could, just based on Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”