And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
In our bizarre American culture we have a fascination with watching people do unexpected things. From the orchestrated social train wrecks of reality television, to the addiction of seeing “caught in the act” footage from mobile phone cameras or some other piece of video capture device we are addicts. We want to see people accidentally fall down, or lose control of their emotions and/or bowels, or watch their best laid plans go up in smoke at the worst possible moment. In fact, we’ve become so obsessed with the accidental that not only do we crave it, we don’t seem to hold intentionality in very high regard. Only in certain venues (sports, performance arts, etc…) do we actually want to see what we expect. Obviously there are psychological suggestions for this bent that we have toward seeing other people’s misfortune, but it isn’t just the misfortune that we are enamored by, it is the novelty of lazily watching a lowest-common-denominator version of excitement. The pleasing shock of misdirection and anything unexpected is like the dessert of of society, and we have made a habit of gorging ourselves on desert, not leaving room for anything of substance. (I don’t offer this commentary from a tower, I myself watched a video this morning of a Russian jumping into what he thought was a pool of cold water but which actually turned out to be a pool frozen solid…his cannonball wound up being a bruised hip and a cold reminder that liquid does change states – and I laughed like a lunatic because I was expecting him to splash, not thud)
In the verse today we find an interesting set up. Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath and He is threatening to heal a man with a busted up, useless hand. Jesus has already displayed His power to heal in front of the masses, including the religious professionals of the day. This is important because, at this point in the narrative Jesus has positioned Himself, intentionally it seems, in direct opposition to the Pharisees understanding of holiness. Jesus does not see holiness as something that can be carried out at the expense of people. Holiness, when practiced by Jesus at least, is always beneficial to those who are hurting and marginalized and in need.
So, the showdown in the synagogue isn’t so much a question of what is expected of Jesus, but more a question of whether or not He will do what He is expected to do. The religious elite in the room that day knew that Jesus could heal the man’s hand, they never question His ability to heal, only the propriety of the action. So the underlying question that is floating around the room on that Sabbath day is, “will Jesus ignore the outside pressures and influences and be who He said He would be by doing what He said He would do?”
This is the same question for us today as Christians. The issue is not one of expectations. Anyone who has heard a handful of Bible stories knows how a Christian is supposed to act. We’ve heard and read the Sermon on the Mount, there is little dispute or debate as to “who we are supposed to be”. So the question is this: will we, in the face of a culture that values different things than we value, do those things that mark us as Christians? In short, will we do what they expect us to do.
Living up to people’s expectations is a good thing when you’re Jesus, it brought restoration and hope to man without the prior promise of either in this account from Mark’s gospel. It is also a good thing for followers of Jesus, like us. The same thing happens, perhaps in different ways, or perhaps in the same way, but either way healing comes from doing what is expected of us, to being who “they” say we are.
In a quote that I should have, but obviously haven’t, memorized CS Lewis makes the observation that if you want to be original your best best is to walk the time-tested pathways of truth, not to try and create a “new” thing. He says that the majority of the time, when you attempt to do what you are “supposed to”, you will wind up being unique and original far more often than when originality is contrived. So my challenge today, and your challenge today, is to be exactly who people expect me to be. In doing so we will find that people around us will start holding out the withered places in their lives to us, hoping for a chance at a new start.
But it’s ironic that in the moment when everyone knows what you should do based on what you’ve said you would do it is a tense thing to actually do it.