The story today ends with a mention of “the Herodians.” Mark refers to them twice, here and in 12:13. They weren’t a distinct sect or party, but most likely a group who were adherents of King Herod, and thus more political than religious in nature. Herodians and Pharisees were usually unfriendly (think enemies) towards each other. They unite over their fear of Jesus. For the Pharisees, Jesus threatened their religious power over the people; for the Herodians he threatened the political power of their ruler, Herod. Mark brings together the two ‘powers,’ religious and political, that were oppressing the people.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Lord God, open my ears and let me hear your words today. Amen.
Read Mark 3:1-6
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He 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. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
A remarkable miracle takes place in this story and yet Mark tells that story briefly. Jesus called a man with a withered hand to come forward in the synagogue on the sabbath, commanded him to stretch out his hand and it was restored. That’s all the detail he gives about the unnamed man and the healing miracle. His brevity suggests the healing isn’t the reason for telling this story. It’s secondary to the main story—the confrontation between Jesus and the religious rulers, especially the Pharisees. This is Jesus’ fifth conflict with them and the first to take place both on the sabbath and in the synagogue, the two most holy aspects of religious Judaism. In this confrontation, Jesus demonstrates the truth of his claim given in the previous story, that he is ‘Lord of the sabbath.’ He could have arranged to meet the man after sabbath was over. The fact that he didn’t shows, not just his compassion but his power over the Law.
The Pharisees have raised the level of their attack against Jesus. They were looking for a reason to accuse him and so watched him, to see whether he’d cure the man on the sabbath. The Greek word translated ‘watch’ “implies a sense of hostility or of lying in wait” (The Spirituality of Mark by M. Minor. 1996, p. 36). It makes me wonder whether they deliberately planted the man where he’d easily be seen by Jesus, knowing Jesus would show compassion and heal the man. I find it encouraging that they anticipated Jesus would heal the man on the sabbath. It says much about Jesus that even his enemies knew of he’d be compassionate. Sadly, they weren’t willing to share in that same compassion. Jesus’ challenging question to them and their refusal to respond clearly underscores their failure to be merciful. We then read, Jesus “looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness [stubbornness] of heart.” The language Mark uses to describe Jesus’ reaction to the callousness of the rulers is “unparalleled in the New Testament” (Myers. 2016, p. 162).
In the final verse Mark hints at the importance of this story. Pharisees and Herodians, previously arch enemies, come together to conspire to destroy (think kill) Jesus. Both the religious and the political leaders are now in agreement about Jesus; he must be destroyed. The conflict has taken an ominous turn.
Why do you think Jesus was so angry and grieved? How does this make you feel?
Will you still follow Jesus even though it pits you against the rulers in your church and country?
How is your picture of Jesus being changed through this reading?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Jesus you braved the powerful antagonism of the religious rulers and healed a man, risking your life. Help me today be willing to faithfully follow you despite the chance I could experience some form of suffering and struggle if I do. Help me, through your Spirit to be bold and Christian to the end. In your name I pray, Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where followers of Jesus aren’t necessarily accepted.