An Illustration of the Blinding Effects of a Wicked Heart
Have you ever thought about what it means to value something? We all have things that we value; things that we spend time doing or trying to get; things that we talk about all the time; things that bring us joy and happiness. This is what it means to value something. The problem is that it is very easy to value the wrong things in this world. For example, just look at the stock market. There are people whose job it is to analyze the market and determine what stocks are valuable and which ones are not. Sometimes it is not always easy to tell. If you put your money into a stock that is not really valuable then you can loose it all. This is just one example of how hard it can be to determine what is valuable and what is not. But there are even more important things than the stock market that we must make decisions about. Every day we must determine what is spiritually valuable and what is not valuable. This is something that is usually very difficult for us to figure out. Thankfully, in Mark 3:1-6 we have some help. In this passage Mark makes it clear that we must value Jesus. In fact, we will see that we must value Jesus even more than we value ourselves. Mark will show us this by comparing the value of Jesus to the wickedness of the Pharisees.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
I. The Setting (vv. 1-3)
a. The constant movement of Jesus
Verse 1 of chapter three picks up right where chapter two left off, with Jesus in constant movement. Here Mark tells us that “again he entered the synagogue.” This would prove to be a regular stop for Jesus during His earthly ministry. In 1:21 Jesus was in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath and here He is back again. There are even some who think that this was the same Sabbath day that we read about in 2:23-28, however Luke makes is clear that this was “on another Sabbath.” (Luke 6:6) Mark also tells us that on that particular day “a man was there with a withered hand.”
We do not know a lot about this man except that he had “a withered hand.” We would normally use the term “withered hand” to describe someone with this type of disability, but this was the lingo of the day. The term is actually a figurative expression that pictures a dried up plant dying from draught. The idea is that this man’s hand had shriveled, either from birth or some accident, up and become paralyzed (for a similar use of this phrase note 1 Kings 13:4). What makes it worse is that Dr. Luke tells us that it was his right hand that had been paralyzed (cf. Luke 6:6). This would have had a serious effect on this man’s life not only because most people are right, but also because the men of this culture had to work with their hands in order to make a living. These men were farmers, carpenters, and fisherman. Without the use of a right hand this man was at a great disadvantage when it came to earning a living. Not to mention the fact that this man did not have many of the advantages that some one with this disability would experience in today’s world. There was no disability or no social security to help him earn a living; this guy was on his own. Additionally, there was no modern medicine to help him cope with his physical limitation. Someone with this same ailment today might be able to benefit from the use of a prosthetic hand (ILL: Lumberjack with only one hand), but not this guy.
b. The plot of the Pharisees
As the scene begins to unfold in these verses you can almost sense what is about to happen. Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath, there is a man present in need of healing, and now in verse 2 Mark tells us that Jesus’ opponents were there too and “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath.” Mark does not mention who these individuals are in this verse, but he makes is clear in verse 6 that they were the Pharisees. Additionally, both Matthew and Luke identify the Pharisees as the ones spying on Jesus. It is not all that surprising that the Pharisees were there watching Jesus. They had been following Him around opposing Him for quite some time already, but this time something was different. For the first time we learn that these guys actually had a plot to trap Jesus (This is the first mention of their plot, but not the last: Luke 14:1, 20:20; John 8:6). The way the Mark describes it you may even say that they were watching Jesus with a purpose; they were spying on him. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to heal this guy, and they were not just curious. In the words of Mark they were watching Jesus “so that they might accuse him.” This word that is translated “accuse” (κατηγορήσωσιν) has the idea of bringing charges against someone. So, the Pharisees were intently watching Jesus to see if he was going to heal this man, so that they could formally bring legal charges against Jesus. You see,
According to the Rabbis the sick or injured were to be treated on the Sabbath day, if life was actually in danger; but if there was no danger to life, then treatment was not permissible. Since the withered hand did not constitute a danger to the man’s life, to heal it on the Sabbath would be in the Pharisees’ view an infringement of the Sabbath and punishable as such.
This was their interpretation of the law, and this was how they thought they would be able to catch Jesus. They were tired of this Jesus “showing them up” (2:7-12, 17, 19-22, 25-18), and they were going to put a stop to His public ministry.
The Pharisees thought that they had a great plan, but it wasn’t as good as they thought. In fact, Jesus knew exactly what these guys were up to. Luke even tells us that “He knew their thoughts.” (Luke 6:8) He was not going to let them get away with it either. In these verses we will see that Jesus publicly dealt with these men and their plot against him. He began doing so by having the man with the paralyzed hand stand up in front of everyone. As we picture this scene we need to understand that synagogues in Jesus’ day were much different than the church sanctuaries that we have grown accustomed to. In these synagogues the seating would not have been in rows all facing the same direction. The seating would have been benches lined up around the outside of the room against the wall, and the speaker would have stood right in the middle of everyone. This is why, in the Greek, Jesus literally tells this man to “get up in the middle.” (ἔγειρε εἰς τὸ μέσον)
When Jesus had this man come stand in front of everyone the Pharisees probably thought that their plan was working to perfection. They had been waiting for Jesus to this guy on the Sabbath, and now it looked like their plan was working. Matthew even tells us that when it looked like Jesus was going to heal this man the Pharisees actually asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10) Apparently they wanted to cover their bases and make sure that everyone understood that Jesus was breaking the law according to their interpretation.
Before we look at Jesus’ response to the plot of the Pharisees there are a few things that we need to understand about this plot:
- The Pharisees had a wrong view of the Sabbath. Jesus will deal with this more in the next verse, but we must understand that the Pharisees viewed the Sabbath incorrectly (cf. 2:23-28).
- The Pharisees were wrong to think that they could fool Jesus. Jesus knew their thoughts, and this was not the first time that this had happened (cf. 2:8). The Pharisees thought way too much of themselves when they thought that they could out smart Jesus.
- The Pharisees were wrong to try and destroy someone they knew had the ability to heal. Their plan revolved around the fact that Jesus had to heal someone on the Sabbath. What is so amazing about this is that it never occurred to them that someone with the ability to heal might be worth listening to. In fact, the entire question of whether or not it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath is ridiculous since only God has the power to heal in this way.
 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Edinburg: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 119-120.