Stretch Out Your Hand

Scripture Focus: Mark 3.2-6
2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. 

Reflection: Stretch Out Your Hand
By John Tillman

The man with the shriveled hand seems to be there only so the leaders can see if Jesus will break one of their interpretations of Sabbath law. It’s a trap recorded by three different gospel writers. (Matthew 12.9-15; Mark 3.1-5; Luke 6.6-11

Mark focuses on Jesus’ inner frustrations. Jesus is angry that the leaders’ hearts are so hardened that they cared more for a human interpretation of the law than a human life.

Jesus called Pharisees “teachers” of Israel. He said, “Do what they say.” They were good teachers but bad leaders. Their lives did not reflect their own teachings, so Jesus also said, “Don’t do as they do.” (Matthew 23.3)

Jesus’ ministry had barely begun but already, they sought “a reason to accuse” rather than reasons to believe. Many people we meet may also be looking for reasons to accuse, reasons to doubt, reasons to deny faith. Some of those reasons may be found in how they are treated by the Pharisees of today.

In Jesus’ day and in ours, those who are wounded or who suffer in life are often not treated well. Sometimes, like the man with the shriveled hand, they are used as props in arguments. Often they are viewed with suspicion by the religious, the comfortable, or the wealthy. The prevailing logic, a form of prosperity gospel, says that sickness, anxiety, or any kind of struggle is caused by sin. Those stricken by these things are often assumed to be of poor character. At times they are told to “pray” their problems away or are forced to jump through hoops to obtain any assistance or acceptance.

Jesus gives us a different example. He gives every person, even his enemies, every opportunity to believe. All he says to the man at the center of this trap is, “stretch out your hand.” When he does, the man is healed. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that after this, Jesus leaves and many other sick people follow him and he heals them. 

Forgiveness and healing are often tied together in scripture. (Psalm 103.3; Isaiah 19.22; Jeremiah 3.22) So bring to Jesus your wounded friends. Encourage them to look for a reason to believe. Regardless of their sins and regardless of what the religious elite will say, to all who stretch out their hands to Jesus, he offers forgiveness and healing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. — Psalm 51.16

Today’s Readings
Genesis 25 (Listen 4:18
Mark 3 (Listen 3:41)

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Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy

Scripture Focus: Mark 2.5-12
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Reflection: Forgiving Sins is Offensive and Praiseworthy
By John Tillman

Whether listening to a political or a religious leader, I often find myself saying what the Pharisees said, “Why did he say that?” People will regularly disappoint us or shock us with poorly worded, or simply wrong statements. 

Unintentional blunders are one thing, but there are some who take outrage to the bank. They dress up half-truths to be as offensive as possible. Then they act as if they are persecuted when people get angry. Their double-edged statements are specifically sharpened for two target audiences.

One audience is the people they hope to offend. They don’t care about this audience. They don’t want to convince them or win them over, although they often pretend to. They just want to say something hurtful enough that they will react in anger. The other target is the people they hope will leap to their defense, attacking the injured audience when they speak out against the offensive statement. The outrage-mongers don’t care about this audience either, although they often pretend to. This group is just the mob they hope to sic on their enemies. 

Others, as if there isn’t enough outrage in the world, seek it out. Modern people spend much time and energy finding offense in people’s words. They read others uncharitably and intentionally misinterpret them just to stir up controversy.

Jesus inspires offense and praise. When Jesus said things that “offended,” he wasn’t making unintentional blunders. But he also wasn’t intentionally stirring up conflict. We see in Jesus a different model of communication. He speaks to the religious leaders and the religious outcasts with the same motive: to call them to repentance. The truths Christ tells may prick but are not intended to wound. They may goad (Acts 9.4-5 KJV) but are not intended to bruise. (Matthew 12.15-21)

Mark is laying out for us in these chapters a series of escalating conflicts with the religious leaders. We will see the tension continue to grow. Threats, conspiracy, and violence will be the outcome.

Jesus warned that because he was hated, his followers would be hated. But that is not license to be hateful. If we speak in the name of Jesus, we must remember that there is no audience Jesus does not care for. He wants to win them all over and he weeps when any refuse to come to him to be healed. It is his will that all would come to salvation.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8

Today’s Readings
Genesis 24 (Listen 9:42
Mark 2 (Listen 3:55)

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The paralyzed man’s faith is questionable—perhaps so weak that only Jesus could see it.

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Defining Moment

Scripture Focus: John 20.3-10; 28-29
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Reflection: Defining Moment
By John Tillman

Bible scholars love a good joke or humorous moment in scripture. One that frequently provides levity is noticing that John seems keen to point out that he outran Peter to the tomb. Even though Peter entered first, John notes, twice, that he was the first to arrive. We imagine Peter reading it, saying, “Okay. We get it, John. You’re fast.”

But that’s not all John arrived at first. John was the first to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was alive without seeing Jesus in the flesh. After hearing the testimony of Mary Magdelene, racing Peter to the empty tomb, and going in to see the carefully arranged graveclothes, John believed. Others needed more convincing.

The most famous of these, of course, is Thomas. Thomas also beat Peter to something. Thomas was the first disciple to express that he was willing to die with Jesus. That’s exactly what Thomas expected when they returned to Bethany before Lazarus was raised. (John 11.16

Thomas had good moments but history remembers and has named him for his worst moment. Thomas’s doubt is part of his story, but it is not his whole story. His doubt teaches us the important lesson that the disciples investigated the evidence and were convinced utterly that Jesus was alive. Thomas’s doubt helps our certainty. But his doubt isn’t his identity. 

Jesus doesn’t want you, or Thomas, to be defined by your lowest moment. Jesus didn’t give Thomas the nickname “doubting” and Jesus doesn’t have a nickname for you based on your failures either. 

Coming to faith in Jesus isn’t a race to be won. You can be quick to believe, like John, confused, like Peter, or cynical, like Thomas. Keep searching among the community of faith. Jesus will show up searching for you, bringing new and better adjectives.

We can edit our identity because of Jesus. He takes our descriptors and gives us his. We were sinners. Now we are righteous. We were dead. Now we are alive.

Do you, like Thomas, have an adjective attached to your name? As a writer and editor, let me encourage you to delete it. What adjectives do you carry with you? Doubting? Wounded? Worthless? Unreliable? Delete them and accept the new descriptors that are given to us in Jesus: 

Your defining moment is no longer your lowest moment. It is Jesus’ victory through the cross and resurrection.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen 3:59
John 20 (Listen 4:17)

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Ecce Homo

Scripture Focus: John 19.5, 13-16
5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. 

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” 

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. 

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. 

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. 

Reflection: Ecce Homo
By John Tillman

Pilate presented Jesus as innocent, saying, “Here is the man.” Ecce homo is the Latin Vulgate translation of this statement. The moment is recorded in many works of art.

In 2012, the 19th-century fresco, Ecce Homo, was in poor shape. Much of the paint had flaked away over time. An aged parishioner, who had seen it slowly deteriorating, decided to attempt to restore her favorite depiction of Jesus. Unfortunately, she had no formal art training and the result was…not good. The Internet swarmed with scorn for her work and memes of other famous artwork ruined in the same style.

Despite affection for Jesus and good intentions, her depiction of Jesus was a blurry blob, with none of the details that gave the artwork meaning.

Many of us may have a blurry, blob of affection for Jesus. It is vital for us to return to the master artists of scripture regularly to see the details they skillfully composed for us.

The details John focuses on are legal, political, and damning. Until the ecce homo moment, Pilate had been speaking informally—like banter at a press conference. But when the politicking and bargaining were over Pilate sat in “the seat of judgment” called “the Stone Pavement.” 

The precise location is unknown but this was the official seat representing justice under the law. It would be like a U.S. president sitting down behind his desk in the Oval Office, or the justices of the Supreme Court taking their seats. It just got official. 

John has carefully presented Jesus’ signs and claims to be the one true king. Yet Pilate presented Jesus as king and he was rejected. Not just by the Jews. Not just by Pilate. By the world. This moment is the essence of all sin.

Sin is not merely behavior. It is rebellion. Every sin you’ve ever heard of or committed is a result of rebellion—a follow-on effect of our conspiratorial coup against God’s kingdom.

Therefore, when we repent, we must not merely change behavior. We must return to the truth. We must return to Pilate’s words, “Here is the man,” adding, “He is innocent. I am not.”

With the soldier at the foot of the cross, we say, “Surely this was the son of God.” With the rebel on the cross, we say, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

Today’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen 2:39
John 19 (Listen 6:23)

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The Sins of Sodom

Scripture Focus: Genesis 19.27-28
27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Reflection: The Sins of Sodom
By Erin Newton

How does God measure corruption? What sin is too far?

As we read through the Old Testament, we encounter stories about God’s wrath upon various expressions of sin. The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah is an infamous tale. Not all stories end with sulfur raining down from the heavens!

This chapter is difficult to read, more so to understand. There are issues of sexual ethics that occur twice in this text. First are the men of Sodom and their enraged demands. Second, are the schemes by Lot’s daughters.

The burning question most people want answered is, “What sin did they commit that was so heinous?” An accurate picture of Sodom requires a holistic examination.

The townspeople were called “wicked” and “sinning greatly” before Lot decided to settle in the land (Gen 13). In Genesis 19, men from Sodom demand that Lot forgo his duties of hospitality and hand over the angels for the townspeople’s sexual pleasure. The people of Sodom care nothing of these guests, they use their strength and power to force the situation.

Later references to Sodom refer to its sin in other ways. Isaiah 3.9 speaks of Sodom’s sin on parade, a reference to high-handed sins committed without shame. Jeremiah 23.14 compares the prophets of Jerusalem to those of Sodom; they are enablers of evil. Ezekiel 16.49 plainly states, the sin of Sodom was arrogance, indulgence, and lack of care for the poor.

In most cases, Sodom becomes a byword for destruction.

Can we conclude that Sodom was destroyed for just one type of sin? The text prohibits that conclusion. Sodom was a web of evil. Lot was told to leave town and never look back to separate himself from those who demand the free exercise of evil.

Sometimes, these stories become a means of comparing ourselves with others. “At least I’m not like them!” We pervert our righteousness when we create a hierarchy of sin. If we judge some sins as safe and others as damning, we make a mockery of the cross.

“Would you spare Sodom if just ten righteous people are found there?” Abraham had asked. The smoldering ruins were his answer.

Yet, in sharp contrast, Jesus proudly announced that he would leave the ninety-nine for the sake of one lost sheep.

The web of evil in our hearts condemns us, but the cross of Christ bore the judgment. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 19 (Listen 5:33
John 18 (Listen 5:16)

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God challenged Jeremiah to find even one righteous person…He found only rebellion, greed, and abuse.

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