Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:9–14)
As we move through Matthew’s gospel during this series on the miracles of Jesus, the clash between the Pharisees and Jesus intensifies. His claims and acts of authority incense the Pharisees. Seeking to trap him, they ask him about healing on the Sabbath and present to him a man with a withered hand. But Jesus again detects their secret thoughts. When he asks about a sheep falling into a pit, he refers to a long debate that the Pharisees were having about what was lawful on the Sabbath.
Jesus shows how he is more concerned with mercy than empty ritual, and with human beings over animals. With one command he tells the man to stretch out his hand. The man had been a pawn of the Pharisees, but Jesus makes all things new.
Of course, the Pharisees aren’t overjoyed. Instead of rejoicing that the man can now use his arm, they plot to kill Jesus. They were probably remembering how God restored Moses’ arm with one command (Exodus 4:6–7), realizing that Jesus with this action was claiming his Messiahship.
Who are we most like in today’s passage? Jesus, blowing preconceptions and healing (and no, I’m not encouraging a Messiah-complex)? The man, argued over and yet restored? Or the experts in the law, who couldn’t overcome their prejudice to see the new work of God?
For reflection: “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).