The Man with the Withered Hand


He was there, in the synagogue on a Sabbath, an observant Jew.  His withered hand didn’t limit his worship – he wasn’t a Levite, he wasn’t a priest.  He couldn’t work because of it, but this wasn’t a day that required work.  It was the one day when his hand didn’t matter, the Sabbath, when all work went still.  Wouldn’t such a man love the Sabbath law, the law that allowed him to sit quietly with his neighbors and not feel that his withered hand made him an outsider?

Perhaps he agreed with the Pharisees’ denunciations of Jesus, who had just defended his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath.  Picking grain, something he couldn’t do, in defiance of sitting quiet and being at rest, one thing he could do quite well.  Agreed with them, until Jesus took pity on him, and asked him to stretch out his hand.  Was he angry, even as he obeyed, not wanting to turn into a demonstration of power?  Or perhaps he was considering the day after, when he would be useless again, when he’d have to beg and accept charity and feel that he was somehow lesser than other people.  It was a finely balanced act, that stretching forward of his arm, the withered hand balancing on the end of it.

“Stretch out your hand,” Jesus said.  He could stretch his fingers without pain.  A glance back at the Pharisees, at their anger.  He had stepped from one camp into another, had ceased to be an observant Jew in their eyes, had become a grain-picker, a miracle-scrounger, a hopeful child.  And yet.  And yet, his hand moved, he could grasp the cloth of his tunic with it, could rub the fabric between thumb and forefinger and feel everything without pain.  He could return to his seat and hold his hand in his lap, looking at in, and then realize that it was no longer a passive object, that it could do more than nest in the cradle of his other hand, that it could stretch, the fingers could drum on his legs, the knuckles could curve them into fists.

But it was still the Sabbath.  No one would be working until sundown.  Even Jesus, who had proved his point, would rest now.  And the Pharisees, the angry Pharisees, had gone away.  The Sabbath, and there was little to do but return to the street, to the piece of shade that rested against the synagogue wall, where he must wait, watching the angle of the sun across the roofs of the houses, resting and waiting for sunset.

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