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Bible boy_reading_bibleContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 6:6-11

A Man with a Withered Hand

 6On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

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Last week’s post concerned the first five verses of Luke 6. That Sabbath story dealt with the Pharisees’ taking exception to Jesus’s disciples picking and eating corn on the day when they were to forbidden to engage in any ‘work’.  Jesus reminded them of the high priest giving a hungry David the shewbread (holy bread on display) to share with his men (1 Samuel 21). Jesus then declared Himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath’. Not for Him a burdensome list of holy day rules.

Today’s story takes place on ‘another Sabbath’ (verse 6). Jesus entered a synagogue to teach and saw a man with a paralysed, atrophied right hand.

Once again, His religious enemies the Pharisees were there, this time with the scribes (verse 7). They watched him intently to see whether He would heal — ‘work’ — on the holy day of the week.

John MacArthur says that there were strict rules at the time about exactly what one could do on the Sabbath. This is still the case today. One of my former neighbours was a conservative (not orthodox) Jew whose father died on the Sabbath. This man told me that he and his family were concerned about what they could and should do, especially as the burial would have to take place within three days. They had a long discussion about whether they could rend their garments for mourning and whether they should pick up the telephone to ring their rabbi. ‘Would he answer the phone?’ they wondered. This happened only ten years ago, so you can imagine that Pharisaical law was much more burdensome. (By the way, the rabbi did answer his phone; he said they could rend their garments and begin making funeral arrangements.)

MacArthur says that doctors could not relieve suffering on the Sabbath. The only corporal works allowed in this area were to give comfort to the dying and to help expectant mothers in labour.

Therefore, the Jewish leaders watched Jesus intently so that they could accuse Him of Sabbath violations, many of which they invented.

The Lord of the Sabbath in His divinity knew what they were thinking (verse 8) and told the man to stand and approach Him.

Then, Jesus addressed the Jewish leaders and asked them what the Sabbath was for with regard to life (verse 9). Was it to show mercy or to commit a sin of omission by doing nothing?

MacArthur explains, citing Isaiah 58 on true and false fasting (emphases mine):

What is He saying here? Help people, show compassion, show mercy, do good. That’s the answer to the question Jesus asked. Is it right on the Sabbath to do good? Yes, it’s right on the Sabbath to do good, Isaiah 1 says that. Don’t come in here with your sacrifices, and your ceremonies, and your externals and a wicked, evil heart. Clean your heart out and do good and help people and show mercy. And close to the end of Isaiah, chapter 58 which they also would have been very familiar with and have studied fastidiously, Isaiah 58:6, He says, “Okay, you’re going to fast? Let me tell you the way to fast. This is the fast that I choose.” Verse 6, Isaiah 58, “Loosen the bonds of wickedness, undo the bands of the yoke, let the oppressed go free and break every yoke.” Lighten up, guys. Take the yoke off that you’re binding on these people. Verse 7, “Share your bread with hungry people, bring a homeless person into your house. When you see somebody who is unclothed, clothe him and don’t hide yourself from your own flesh.” You know what that scene is, right? “O no, your mother-in-law is at the door, don’t answer it and she’ll think we’re not here.” Don’t do that. Do what’s right.

Down in verse 13, “If because of the Sabbath you turn your foot from doing your pleasure on my holy day and call the Sabbath the delight, the holy day of the Lord, honorable and shall not honor it, desisting from your own way…and shall honor it desisting from your own ways from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the Lord.” So do this on the Sabbath, do what honors God. Do good. Do good and the Lord’s going to bless you, He says.

Isaiah 1 gives the Lord’s searing criticism of manmade religious rules which have not made His people holier:

11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
   says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
   and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
   or of lambs, or of goats.

12“When you come to appear before me,
   who has required of you
   this trampling of my courts?
13Bring no more vain offerings;
   incense is an abomination to me.
 New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
   I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14Your new moons and your appointed feasts
   my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
15When you spread out your hands,
   I will hide my eyes from you;
 even though you make many prayers,
   I will not listen;
   your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
   remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
 17learn to do good;
 seek justice,
   correct oppression;
 bring justice to the fatherless,
   plead the widow’s cause.

Similarly, Jesus said to the Pharisees as He was at supper with Matthew and his friends (Matthew 9:13):

13Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

And in Matthew’s account of the Lord of the Sabbath episode (Matthew 12:5-7):

5Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

This is from Hosea 6:6:

6For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Now back to the man with the atrophied hand. Jesus was not going to be deterred by theological hypocrites; He would show mercy on the Sabbath, His day — not theirs. He told the man to extend his hand and, immediately, it was restored (verse 10).

Because He rightly defied them (verse 11), they went away in ‘fury’ to plot what to do about Him. It is astounding that they could not see His divinity in all His perfect healings — every one of them was instantaneous and complete — and His flawless teaching. He was the Messiah they longed for; yet, because He opposed their system, they wanted to condemn Him to death. Another spirit moved through them.

Matthew Henry says:

No wicked men are such absurd and unreasonable men as persecutors are, who study to do evil to men for doing good.

And of the Pharisees who accused the disciples of breaking Sabbath by picking grain:

Many that are themselves guilty of the greatest crimes are forward to censure others for the most innocent and inoffensive actions

He adds this lesson for us:

Let not us be drawn off, either from our duty or usefulness, by the oppression we meet with in it.

As for the Jewish leaders’ fury, he offers this analysis:

They were mad at Christ, mad at the people, mad at themselves. Anger is a short madness, malice is a long one; impotent malice, especially disappointed malice; such was theirs. When they could not prevent his working this miracle, they communed one with another what they might do to Jesus, what other way they might take to run him down. We may well stand amazed at it that the sons of men should be so wicked as to do thus, and that the Son of God should be so patient as to suffer it.

Next time: Luke 6:12-16

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