Reflections on Mark 3:1-6 Part 3

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"He stretched it out, and his hand was restored." (Mark 3:5)


The Second Contrast: The Man with the Withered Hand and the Pharisees

There is also a certain affinity between the man with the withered hand and the Pharisees. All were silent. All were in need of healing, the one physical and the other spiritual. The man had a withered hand but the Pharisees had an even greater need; they had a withered heart. This is where the affinity ends, however.

While the man was fully aware of his need for healing, the Pharisees were ignorant of their real inner condition, their hardness of heart. It is not the healthy person who needs the doctor but the person who is ill. Unless a person knows he is ill he will not approach the doctor to be healed. Recognizing one’s need of healing is a precondition of seeking and being healed, this is true in the physical and spiritual areas.

The man with the withered hand and the Pharisees were all silent, yet their silence was of a very different kind. Their silence was as different as their hearts were different. The silence of the man was that of a person who had come to worship, ready to accept the gift of God; that of the Pharisees was due to their inability to answer Jesus’ question, an embarrassing silence. It was the silence of those who refuse dialogue, those who are not open to a relationship with the source of life, the silence of an angry heart, a heart closed to life, unable to identify and share the suffering of others. Unlike the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees were unwilling to be challenged, unwilling to be brought out of their comfort zone, unwilling to call themselves into question, unprepared for the gift of God. They received nothing: “you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).

Although we point out the need for healing in the intransigent Pharisees we should not feel complacent. Each of us should ask himself the question, ‘do I identify more with the man with the withered hand who was fully aware of his need of healing during his encounter with Jesus or do I identify more with the Pharisees who were unaware of their need for healing? Can we honestly say, together with the psalmist, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Do we approach Jesus with a humble heart? Are we aware of the hardness of heart within that is crying out for healing and deliverance or are we unaware of the reality within, unaware of what there is withered and distorted that cannot stand in the presence of God? There are two kinds of sinners, those who know they are sinners and those who do not. The latter will never seek healing and therefore will rarely receive it. They will remain locked up in a prison of their own making, a life of self-condemnation.

The healing of the withered hand would certainly have been a reason for rejoicing for everyone present; but it was not so for the Pharisees. They were unable to feel any sort of empathy for that man in need and who was cured. They are unable to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Far from rejoicing, the Pharisees came away disappointed because they could not detect any breach of their laws. Jesus did not do anything to heal the man; it was the creative word that healed him. Hence he could not be accused of anything. The Pharisees were thwarted in their objective! Their stifled humanity kept them locked up the prison of their withered inner state and this prevented them from rejoicing. On the contrary, they consulted with their arch enemies, the Herodians, on how to destroy Jesus (v. 6). The spiritual warfare begun in Mark 1:13 and which continues in Mark 1:24: 1:32, 34, comes to a head-on confrontation here where death is explicitly contemplated. For the Pharisees it might not be lawful to heal on the Sabbath but, apparently, it is lawful to plot to murder someone on the Sabbath!


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