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Worship Service Message

June 2, 2024
2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Healing by Actions

2 Corinthians 4:6-11; Mark 2:23-3:6

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body?”

“. . . a man was there who had a withered hand. Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”

Spiritually, I am sick. How about you? Do you mind if I say we are all spiritually sick. If you don’t agree with me, you can silently say, “except for me!” We are sometimes, if not oftentimes, extremely defensive, protective, self-centered, judgmental, and even narcissistic.

That is why we need a community where we can honestly admit we are emotionally and spiritually sick and yet willing to be healed and become well by the grace of God and the love of one another.

In fact, being spiritually sick is not a problem because God’s job is to heal us, and God is eager to do so. One of the most quoted scriptural verses is “God gave his only Son not to condemn the world but to save the world.”

Here, the Greek root for the word ‘save’ or salvation is “sozo.” The word “sozo” also means “heal,” “restore,” and “make it well and whole.” So, you can translate the previous verse as “God gave his only Son not to condemn the world but to heal the world.” To heal the world is the reason God fully revealed Godself in the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, don’t worry that we are all sick because God’s job is to heal our sickness and make us well and whole again.

In today’s story, as the embodiment of God’s healing grace, Jesus was healing a man who had a withered hand. Our main problem is not the fact that we are sick, but that we pretend as if we were not sick and exclusively recognize others’ sicknesses to avoid seeing our own.

Despite being short, today’s Gospel story is vivid and dynamic. Before today’s story, the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees has significantly increased. In fact, today’s story is the last one out the five conflict stories between Jesus and the Pharisees in Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3.

The Pharisees have become so upset and resentful that they are watching Jesus “cross the red line.” In today’s story, Jesus crossed that line, and his opponents began plotting to kill him. In the Gospel of Mark, what Jesus did in today’s episode led him to death. For this reason, today’s story has a unique significance in the Gospel of Mark. 

From the Pharisees’ perspective, Jesus should not cure the man. For, according to a strict interpretation of the Sabbath law, healing was prohibited on the Sabbath, because it was considered to violate one of the Ten Commandments: “Do not work on Sabbath.”

It will be beneficial to understand that the Pharisees were a reform group within Judaism who tried to make the Law of the Torah applicable to the daily life of the people. Because the commandments in the Torah did not cover every aspect of life, the Pharisees developed an extensive body of oral traditions to fill in the gaps. Their intention of interpreting the Torah “in a way that offered priestly status to everyone” was good. By expanding and interpreting the law, they aimed to bring holiness into every part of daily living, ensuring that the lay people could live out their faith in practical and accessible ways. They believed that by following these traditions, ordinary individuals could achieve a level of spiritual purity akin to that of the priests in the Temple.

However, when their regulations of the Law became a judgmental tool, they lost the essence of the Torah. Instead of facilitating a deeper connection with God and promoting compassion and justice, the strict and often burdensome rules became a means of exclusion and condemnation. This shift in focus from the spirit of the Law to a rigid legalism overshadowed the core values of mercy, love, compassion, and justice that the Torah intended to teach.

In the story, Jesus seemed to intend to upset the Pharisees. His strategy appears to aim at aggravating these religious leaders. Notice how cleverly Jesus proceeded in his arguing with them. Jesus could ask his questions first and then cured the man without drawing attention to him. Furthermore, if he wanted to avoid conflict, Jesus could heal the man privately.

However, Jesus first called up the sick man forward, placing him in the middle so people could see him. Then, he drew the audience’s attention to the Pharisees and asked them a double question, which was both clever and impossible to answer: “Is it lawful to do good or to harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” This question surely made the Pharisees very uncomfortable and cornered them.

Jesus’ question addresses the essence of the Law. For Jesus, it is simple: the essence of the Law is “to do good” and “to save/heal life!” This may sound too simple to you. Even the Pharisees might have thought they were trying to “do good and save life” by observing the Moses’ Law. Each of us may think in the same way, believing we try to do good and save life.

However, the remaining story challenges us. In the story, Jesus’ question remains unanswered: it seems neither Jesus nor the Pharisees answered it verbally. However, in truth, Jesus himself answered his question not with words, but action—by healing the man whose hand was dried. Jesus knew that it is lawful to do good and save life on the Sabbath, just as on any other days, and he put his knowledge into action.

The Pharisees also answered Jesus’ question by their actions. They responded to Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to do good or to harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” by planning how to kill Jesus on the Sabbath. They might not have been aware of their hypocrisy, as they believed they were faithfully observing and protecting the Law, and saw the need to eliminate Jesus, whom they viewed as a troublemaker intentionally violating the Law. For them, healing the sick and saving lives on the Sabbath was a critical sin deserving persecution, but planning to kill Jesus on the Sabbath was lawful and just.

The Pharisees were sick—not physically, but spiritually. Their sickness was referred to as the “hardness of heart.” Interestingly, while the man had a hand that was dried and hardened, the Pharisees had hearts that were dried and hardened. Although the man was depicted as having an illness, the story reveals that it was the Pharisees who were truly and deeply sick. This becomes clear when Jesus was able to heal the man with the dried hand but was unable to lead the Pharisees to recognize their own sickness.

If you are like me, we are spiritually sick. But we know the remedy, the remedy that Jesus revealed. The cure for our spiritual sickness is not found in strict adherence to the letter of the law, church doctrine, or church policies, but in action-oriented love and compassion. Just as Jesus demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, we too are called to actively do good and save lives. This means embodying the essence of the Law through our actions—showing kindness, compassion, and mercy to those in need.

Avoiding harm is not enough; God wants us to do good. Not killing is not enough; God wants us to save/heal the lives, to provide kindness, gentleness, support for those who struggle and are in despair.

Let us not harden our hearts, but instead open them to the transformative power of love, allowing our deeds to reflect the true spirit of the Law. By doing so, we fulfill the true purpose of the divine Law, becoming instruments of God’s grace in the world.

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