The Man with the Withered Hand

What might the feelings of that young man be?

Today’s Gospel is Mark 3:1-6. It’s one of the stories about Jesus that I particularly love so I prayed through it, using Ignatian Imaginative Prayer, and wrote a story that I included in my book, Who is Jesus? I want to share it today.

(this story based on the similar story in the  Gospel of Matthew) Excerpted from the book, Who is Jesus? 1st Century Eyewitnesses Tell Their Stories

Real and Lasting Change

My parents gave birth to an embarrassment – me. I’m so grateful they loved me anyway. They could have turned me out with no blame. After all, who can afford the burden of a deformed child?

From age three, when I was weaned, I recall the looks and stares wherever I went. The most blunt remarks were from the youngest and most innocent neighbors.

“Mother, look. Why can’t he hold the cup like me?”

“Why does his hand look so funny?”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“He scares me.” Their faces scrunched up and their eyes grew wide just before they ran away.

At six I was excluded when the neighborhood boys went to our little school. “Why teach a disfigured boy to read? He’ll only be a beggar someday,” I heard more than once.

For years, I deceived myself into thinking that when I hung my head no one could see me. But as the boys around me got older, they made sure I knew the reality. “Where’d you get your hand stuck?” Or, “Don’t come near me. I don’t want to catch whatever it is you have.” Each day I held back my tears until bedtime where I wrapped myself tightly in my cloak and stifled sobs into my arm.

When everyone else helped with chores, I was left out. I couldn’t do what most sons did for their families. I learned to hate myself.

More than going to school or running with the other boys, I wanted to be just like my father. Each day he left at dawn; I smiled and waved, then turned my head before he saw my glassy eyes. By age 12, most boys apprenticed with their fathers or uncles. Father’s height and muscular arms gave him an advantage that made him an in-demand day laborer. He worked hard as a mason, proud to provide well for us. He made me proud, too.

The “normal” boys trotted off to work each day with their fathers, jostling and joking together. Me?

“Go to Jerusalem, Son, where many people live and work,” my father instructed. “Find a corner on a busy thoroughfare. Better yet, find a place near the Temple Gate Beautiful. Hold the wooden cup in the palm of your good hand as you wrap your other hand around it, so people can see. They’ll pity you.” I don’t want pity. I want a life.

My strong father left each day to work hard. I walked out behind him and began my two-hour journey to Jerusalem with my cup, a piece of flat bread wrapped around olives and a small flask of water. The first few weeks, I walked with my head high. At least I can contribute to our household. The pink arms of the sun waving across the earth, led the way. As it rose, golden light washed the fertile land. Walking with the sun as it opened the day made my mornings hopeful. For awhile.

It wasn’t long before my head hung and my feet scuffed along the road regardless of the sun’s cheery greeting. My eyes stopped enjoying its wonder. By daybreak joy was replaced with intense loneliness as I headed to town with tens of workers whose morning chatter always excluded the outcast.

Every work day for seven years, my body shivered in winter, dripped with sweat in peak summer or endured rain-soaked clothes sticking to me. On dry days I choked, as thousands of feet scuffed up dust into my nostrils. It stung my eyes.  More than once, crushed between billows of scratchy linen, the fear of suffocation overpowered me. “Help!” “Watch out!” “Ouch!” It didn’t matter what I said or how loud I said it. I am a non-person; I have no voice.

I did look forward to a little light in my life at the end of each week, when the sun dipped below the horizon and the Sabbath began. Our first Shabbat meal that heralded its arrival could almost be fun because most of my relatives were kind. I almost felt like I belonged. The next day, Sabbath, was even more of a respite. Not that I enjoyed worship. Why would I want to worship a creator who gave me a withered hand? It’s that the break from my daily misery refreshed me with courage to meet the next week.

One Sabbath day my life changed forever.

Each night of the week leading up to it, when I dragged myself home, I listened to incredulous stories about some man called Jesus who was in town. In the mornings as I trudged to Jerusalem, I walked closer to the men around me, forced myself out of my solitary thoughts, and eavesdropped.

“Did you see what he did last night?”

“Did you hear him teach?”

“Did you know he healed so and so’s daughter who’s been sick for so long?”

At first, I didn’t know what to make of it all. Finally, I decided he used magic. He came here to fool people. Probably every healing will be reversed once he leaves town.

On the Sabbath morning at the end of his first week in town, a buzz hummed through the neighborhood. Jesus had infuriated the Pharisees. Every Jew knew not to lift a hand on the Sabbath. We were not to do anything that resembled work or effort of any kind. That man Jesus and his followers went through the grain fields and actually plucked heads of grain to eat. How brazen! Opinions flew as we walked to synagogue. I don’t care what he does. I’m just glad someone’s around to distract people from me for a change.

Just as my family entered the synagogue, we heard an unfamiliar voice vying with the Pharisees behind us. Always at the tail end of our group, I looked over my shoulder at the commotion. What a mistake!

One of the Pharisees walked right up to me and pointed to my hand, “Is it legal to heal someone on the Sabbath?”

A strong but soothing voice replied, “If you had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath day, wouldn’t you pull it out?”

Silence like death filled the air. Dread wrenched my heart. I dropped my head and squeezed my eyes shut, like when I was little. Maybe this time I really will be invisible.

The man continued, “A man is so much more valuable than a sheep! So, isn’t it legal to do a good deed on the Sabbath day?”

Deafening silence.

I squinted my eyes open. He walked briskly toward me. My eyes sprung wide open when his soft brown eyes looked directly into them and he gently commanded, “Reach your hand out to me.”

Should I? He wants me to show him my withered hand. Was this a trick?

His steady gaze quieted my inner turmoil.

Without another thought, I obeyed. And, then, I stopped breathing. At the same moment, as from one person, the entire gathering gasped. Did I actually show him my good hand? I quickly pulled up the sleeve of my other hand. What happened to my withered hand? They’re both whole! They look the same! Is this man Jesus the magician?

The news reached my parents within seconds. They pushed through the gawking crowd that pressed around me. Their eyes were like saucers when they saw my hands. They turned to Jesus. And then back to me. As our eyes met, we all burst into tears, not of shame that I knew so well, but of unbelievable joy!

That very day, two years ago, I asked Father if I could apprentice with him.

“Of course, my son!” He roared with laughter and threw his arm across my shoulder.

Soon I will be a master craftsman just like my father. I earn a good wage. I have friends. I smile. I even sing at the end of a long day at work. I can verify that Jesus is not a magician. I live a life filled with happiness because I did what he asked. I travel to see him whenever he is nearby. I tell everyone I meet how he changed my life. I tell them Jesus will do that for anyone who will listen to him and obey.

Lately I wonder: Is he the long-awaited Messiah?

Based on the story in Matthew 12:9-13


Who is Jesus? Study Edition


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