The Man with the Withered Hand (L'homme à la main desséchée),
Painted by James Tissot (1836-1902),
Opaque watercolour over graphite on grey wove paper,
Painted circa 1890
© Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.95
There was a man in the synagogue who had a withered hand
Jesus went into a synagogue, and there was a man there who had a withered hand. And they were watching him to see if he would cure him on the sabbath day, hoping for something to use against him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up out in the middle!’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it against the law on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?’ But they said nothing. Then, grieved to find them so obstinate, he looked angrily round at them, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was better. The Pharisees went out and at once began to plot with the Herodians against him, discussing how to destroy him.
Reflection on the gouache on paper
Today’s reading tells how the Pharisees are out to trick Jesus and condemn him for healing on the Sabbath. As the Pharisees are still missing his point, we now hear that Jesus became angry and frustrated. Very human feelings. The Pharisees are more keen to observe a legal code rather than to be touched by the plight of a fellow human being.
As the central point of the story seems to be all about Jesus condemning the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, we may be tempted to think that the man with the withered hand was just a mere prop to tell the story: as a good background story to make the point of how Jesus disputed with the Pharisees about what to do and what not to do on the Sabbath. Yes, Jesus indeed makes the point that we must never allow rituals and tradition to keep us from bringing healing and wholeness into the lives of others. However, in all of Scripture, people are not to be seen by us as mere props or means to tell a story! The man was cared for by Jesus and healed, and so on a basic human level, today's story was all about him and his healing. His faith in Christ is the real focus point of today's story. He is also placed at the very centre of our gouache on paper by James Tissot from 1890 where he is seen stretching out his arm and hand asking to be healed.
We can apply this story as well to every case of spiritual withering we have ourselves… and we know the Master Physician to whom we must go to for healing....
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