A Man With a Withered Hand

Matthew 12:9-14

This story is first and foremost a healing account. There was a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath who had a withered hand, and Jesus asked him to stretch out his hand and it was fully restored. Another example of a person who met with Jesus and whose life was never the same again.

There is more to the story, though.

The incident took place on the Sabbath day and became part of an ongoing dispute between Jesus and the religious authorities of the day regarding what was and wasn’t allowed on the Sabbath (the verses immediately before this passage set some of the context). It is possible that the man happened to be in the synagogue anyway and they seized the opportunity he presented. It is also possible that they brought him along themselves as bait for the trap they wanted to set for Jesus.

They directly asked Jesus about healing on the Sabbath. Whilst the Old Testament didn’t go into any details about what could and couldn’t be done (see Leviticus 23:3 for how the law is formulated), the Pharisees had concocted an elaborate system of 39 ‘Melachot’ spelling out exactly what was prohibited, and it was very restrictive. The one circumstance in which these rules could be disregarded was when it meant saving a human life. There was no exception for healing, although this was likely a topic that formed part of the rabbinic debates of the day.

In his answer, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of their system. Even though it would be technically prohibited by their rules, all of them would lift one of their sheep out of a pit if it fell in on a Sabbath; it was common sense and not doing so would be cruel. By the same principle, of course it is lawful to bring healing to a man made in the image of God. Rather than using the Sabbath as a burden to restrict people, Jesus shows it to be a blessing designed to bring life, and by doing so he ensures yet another person has a life-changing encounter.

Some Key Points:

  • Jesus has the power to bring physical healing.
  • Religious observances such as the Sabbath were never designed to be restrictive to people, but to bless and to give life.

Potential Applications:

  • Have a Healthy Relationship With Sabbath – Sabbath is a gift of God, taking time out in his presence. It is meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be a restriction on blessing. .
  • Prioritise People – For the Pharisees, this man was to be used as nothing more than bait in a trap, but Jesus saw the man as worth far more than the rules the Pharisees insisted upon. People are central.
  • Physical Healing – Like many of the stories in this series, there is a physical healing here and you could create the opportunity for people who need healing to be prayed for.