In Luke 6:6-11 Luke records for us an event that most likely took place during the Feast of Tabernacles in 27 AD. It was a Sabbath day, so this particular Sabbath would have been the first day of the Feast, an annual Holy Day, which occurred in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Jesus had come into one of the local synagogues, probably his own at Capernaum. This can be presumed in that a trap was laid for him by the Jewish authorities. How could they attempt a successful snare, unless they had a fairly good idea where Jesus would be on that particular Sabbath?
The text doesn’t say, but a man could have been invited by the Jewish authorities to that synagogue on that day, or the man may have always attended that synagogue, but the authorities conspired to use him against Jesus. Luke opens the story by telling us that the man had a withered right hand, and the scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus to see if he would heal (Luke 6:6-7). Why did they suspect Jesus would heal the man on this particular Sabbath? Matthew tells us that the local authorities pointed the man out to Jesus, while asking him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:10). All these things were done in an effort to have evidence with which they could accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. Suddenly, Jesus was a gazingstock! All eyes were upon him to see what he would do.
Have you ever been a gazingstock? Have people ever so disagreed with you that they laid a trap for you in an effort to undermine you and what you stand for? I have, and I remember the incident so clearly, as though it occurred yesterday. Yet, it has been over 40 years ago that the event took place. Clearly, I was not equipped to handle what occurred, and I am so grateful to a young woman for breaking the silence by offering a little understanding in the midst of that group of people. It hurts to be in that position, to feel betrayed by folks you felt comfortable with, but didn’t really know they held unkind thoughts about you.
I believe Jesus had similar feelings, because Mark tells us he responded emotionally toward this group of Jewish leaders (Mark 3:5). Why would Jesus do so, unless they had given him reason to believe they were beginning to accept his new message? Were their questions in Luke 5:30, 33 meant to be taken as a sincere attempt on their part at understanding him, when in reality they were setting him up for a later trap? Was their response to Jesus’ healing of the paralytic (Luke 5:26, cf. Mark 2:12) meant to be taken by Jesus as their earnest effort to consider his teaching, when in reality they disguised their anger over having their doctrine shattered by this new young Rabbi? The text doesn’t say one way or another, but it could be read this way, and in so doing, it would have hurt Jesus to find these men had used his sincerity in his ministry and compassion for others against him in an effort to do evil (cf. Luke 6:8-10; Mark 3:3-5).
Unlike what occurred in my life over 40 years ago, Jesus was well equipped to handle his adversaries. He told the man with the withered right arm to stand. Jesus then asked the authorities if it was lawful to do good or to do evil—to save life or destroy it—on the Sabbath day (Luke 6:9)? Matthew tells us that Jesus had first asked, what man among the group would not help a sheep he had found in a ditch on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:11)? This was an example of a ‘good’ deed, which might have been done by anyone of them even on that particular Sabbath. Notice, as well, Jesus referred to ‘evil’ deeds, such as the one they had been pondering in their hearts about him. That was also work—a conspiracy—committed on the Sabbath day to entrap him in what they hoped he would do.
Nevertheless, although Jesus healed the man, he did so without any effort on his part that his enemies could point to as labor done on the Sabbath day! Jesus simply commanded the man saying: “Stretch forth your hand!” The man did so, and he was made whole on the Sabbath day, through the power of God alone.
Just as this man’s powerless condition was healed at the command of Jesus, we are also helpless in our effort to reach God (John 14:6), but Jesus commands us—“Stretch forth your hand!”—“Reach out to Jesus!” and we will be healed.