The Scribes and Pharisees are watching Jesus. They seek every opportunity to catch him in word and deed.
With his disciples Jesus has gone a short journey from the town of Capernaum. On either hand are cornfields, and as they pass through his disciples pluck the ears of the now ripe corn and rubbing them between their hands (as country boys still do) and blowing away the chaff, they eat the grain.
A most harmless procedure we should consider it, should we not? But it had broken two of their Sabbath laws. First, by picking the ears they had “reaped” and second by rubbing they had “threshed” the grain. That was how these Pharisees regarded the act as they came to Jesus and said: “Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day?”
Was it not right on the part of these Pharisees to be thus zealous for the Sabbath law? It was. But they knew that the law of necessity was sometimes, by the Law of Moses, allowed to over-ride the Sabbath law. The priests conducted the Temple services – killing the sacrifices, offering incense, circumcising a child even – and yet were counted blameless. They knew too, that David when he was hungry took of the shew-bread which was in the tabernacle, and ate, though it was not lawful for him so to do,m but for the priests only. How did they excuse David? By saying that David had need, and that he, as God’s annointed servant, had the liberty.
But a greater than David was here, a greater even than the Temple. Who should impute blame where he “the Lord of the Sabbath,” imputed none?
Do not for one moment think that Jesus taught that men might break the Law. You will have noticed that he always says to those whom he has healed that they must go to the priests and offer a sacrifice for their cleansing, if their disease had been an “unclean” one. He kept the Law blamelessly himself. What he did not keep were those numberless interpretations which the Rabbis had added to the Law. What Jesus taught was that the Sabbath was a day of rest and gladness, not one of fasting and mournfulness; that it was a day for doing good, not thinking evil.
This lesson needed soon to be repeated.
It was probably the very next Sabbath. Jesus enters again into the synagogue, which has seen him so often of late. The service proceeds until we come to the time for the roll to be handed to one who should read the portion for the day and expound it. It was now always handed to Jesus. No other Rabbi spake as he did, no other Rabbi had the knowledge that he had. The common people heard him gladly. They now looked forward to the Sabbath service when the Scriptures (the Old Testament Scriptures) should be expounded to them with authority and freshness, and not with the endless repetitions, the wearisome discussion as to whether a man might put fomentations on a swollen part of the body on the Sabbath or not, or whether he were unclean if he ate food purchased from a Gentile or not, and such like quibblings of the Rabbis.
Upon this Sabbath Jesus again taught.
Amongst the congregation he saw a man whose right hand was withered. The Pharisees and Scribes had seen him too. “Will he heal on the Sabbath?” they thought in their craftiness.
When Jesus healed the impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda, the man had told who it was that commanded him to carry his bed. When his disciples ate corn, they did it merely to satisfy hunger and not to flout the Pharisees. Now Jesus openly challenges them.
Knowing their thoughts, he says to the man with the withered hand: “Rise up and stand forth in the midst.”
Turning to the Pharisees sitting in their special seats, he asks a question which shows the whole difference between his idea of the Sabbath and theirs.
“Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy?”
Did they know the answer? Of course they did. They themselves would take out a sheep which had fallen into a pit rather than it should die. Yet their Rabbinical laws said that a man was not to receive medical attention unless in the direst necessity on the Sabbath. some even said it was not lawful to visit the sick.
They do not answer his question. They know how they ought to answer, but to do so would condemn themselves. They were sullenly silent.
“Stretch forth thy hand,” commands Jesus. And he does so; and his hand is restored whole as the other.
Thus Jesus openly challenges them, and they cannot reply. Filled with madness, they take counsel with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Jesus had started on that road which led to Calvary.
Excerpt from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell