I have always been intrigued with the account in Matt 12:9-14 of the man with the shriveled hand. I believe that this whole scenario was a set up by the Pharisees (Luke 6:7, 8). These religious leaders were in the process of garnering evidence so that they might bring charges against Jesus for breaking the Law of Moses. Here, I believe, they positioned this man in the Temple on the Sabbath just to see what Jesus would do. Actually, they knew what he would do—Jesus would heal the man.
It shows how callous these Pharisees had become in their interpretation of the Law. (It was originally passed on to them as oral tradition and ultimately written down in the 3rd century A.D. as the Mishnah, containing 63 tractates on various subjects—800 pages in English. Later, the Jews got to interpreting these interpretations in commentaries called the Talmud—the Jerusalem Talmud had 12 volumes; the Babylonian Talmud has 60 volumes.) Earlier in Matthew 12, the Pharisees had criticized Jesus’ hungry disciples for picking grain to eat from the edges of a field on the Sabbath. Jesus responded to this criticism by cutting through the fog of oral tradition by establishing two important principles based upon the original purpose of the Law: 1) The Sabbath was made for man (for his rest and well-being) and not man for the Sabbath; 2) God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).
These religious leaders used this poor man as a pawn to achieve their own malicious goal of doing away with Jesus. By considering his healing on the Sabbath unlawful according to their oral tradition, the Pharisees treated this man with less mercy than they would show one of their own farm animals. In Deuteronomy 22:4, the Law of Moses made provision to allow the rescue of such an animal if it fell into a ditch on the Sabbath. Yet these super-spiritual, merciless leaders, by their own interpretation of the Law, did not allow the rescue of this man made in the image of God. This made Jesus angry.
And so, Jesus showed the man mercy and established his dignity as an image-bearer of God by healing him. It was how Jesus healed this man that intrigues me and teaches me one more aspect in understanding this word faith. Jesus told the man “stretch out your hand.” Think about that … Jesus did not “un-whither” the guys hand first and then tell him to stretch it out. He told him to stretch out his shriveled hand—the very thing he could not do. The guy could have said, “Lord, why do you think they call me the man with the withered hand? I can’t stretch it out! I need you to heal it first.” Instead, as this man acted upon the word of Christ, he received the ability to do what he could not do and was healed.
This is a further consideration in our understanding of faith. Faith is acting upon the specific word of Christ and in so doing finding the ability to do what we cannot do in our own strength. Let me give an example of how this might work. I’m sitting next to someone on an airplane and sense that God wants me to engage my seat-mate in conversation that may lead to sharing the gospel. So I pray that God would give me strength and wisdom to do that. Do I wait for God to give me an anointing of empowerment—change me from Clark Kent into Super Dave, or do I just start engaging my seat-mate and trust that God will work through in the process? I have found the latter to be the way to proceed. “Stretch out your hand”; start the conversation, give that gift, ask to pray for that needy one, be merciful to your enemy, love the unlovely one, don’t be anxious at bad news—whatever you cannot do in your own strength, trust in the word of Christ and “stretch out your hand.” And watch how the Holy Spirit shows up.