Jesus counters with a question of his own, “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?” In other words, if something valuable to YOU is in danger, wouldn’t you do something, regardless of the rules? Of course they would. The problem was not their devotion to the Sabbath; the man had no value in their eyes.
It would have been difficult for a man to find work with a shriveled hand. The disability could mean living as a beggar, maybe even labeled a sinner for his outward affliction. But in reality, the Pharisees had a far worse affliction of hardened, shriveled hearts. Jesus’ next question should have been a no-brainer, but it bounced off like a rubber ball on cement, “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!”
Contrast this exchange with the interaction between Jesus and the man. Jesus saw his value and had compassion for him. But he didn’t just snap his fingers and perform a miracle. He asked the man to “stretch out his hand.” Stretch out this disfigured, humiliating part of yourself in the presence of these shriveled-heart witnesses. Reach out to Jesus and discover His heart. As the man mustered the courage to extend his hand, it was restored as whole as the other.
It’s easy to assume I’m not like the Pharisees. But how often do I think about helping people only on days when I’m supposed to. Times when I’m focused on my own livelihood and walk right by people with “shriveled hands.” Moments when I need to wrestle with the question, “How much more valuable?” May we be like Jesus ~ not bound by religious rules or self-interest ~ providing safe spaces for others to reach out and be healed.
~ Jen Hanson