On a Sabbath day, Jesus entered a synagogue. And he found a man with a withered hand. Jesus must have felt compassion for the man and felt like healing him. However, there was a problem, the Pharisees. He was coming from a controversy with them. They were too strict to understand the intention of God who gave the law. They accused Jesus and his disciples as violators of Sabbath, without considering their needy situation—they were hungry for they did not have time to eat in pastoring people (Mark 2:23-28; cf. 3:20; 6:31). Even if Jesus gave them a lesson on Sabbath that they could understand the intention of the law, they were closed in their mind and did not listen to the lesson from God. They were so as they always were.
However, Jesus, the Son of God, who is love, could not help from healing the man with a withered hand. Despite watching of the Pharisees, he healed him, but was sad and angry at hardness of heart of them. And he asked, hoping them to understand his teaching: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill” (Mark 3:4)? Even if they had heard a great lesson on the issue in the controversy, they still did not understand it. Surely, they were not listening to Jesus at all.
Not only they were not listening, but also were they not seeing. What Jesus was doing was enactment of his teaching. He was doing the will of God who gave Sabbath. God gave Sabbath by a law but it was not to make people keep it blindly. They had to keep it according to the intention of the giver of it. It was given for them to have rest from works (Exod. 23:13; 34:21; Lev. 23:3). The origin of it tells us of this. After God had finished the creation he took a rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3). As God had done, he set every seventh day holy and commanded to give rest on the day to all people and even to livestock (Exod. 20:8-11). It was an expression of God’s love for his people and even for all creature. In line with the intention of God, love, it is right to do good for human beings and other creature on a Sabbath. In fact, the Pharisees did not have any problem with working on a Sabbath to rescue livestock (Matt. 12:11). However, they had problem with rescuing people who are much more valuable than livestock. This clearly shows that they were missing totally the point of the Sabbath law.
Then, why were they so deaf and blind? They were just religious but not merciful. What they were doing was to do the works of the law without doing “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23), the intention of the giver of it. They were merciless to people in need, yet they were so crazy about outward keeping of the religious doctrines and regulations. That is why, Jesus said to them, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (9:13). Both Jesus and the Pharisees were talking about the same law of God but Jesus’ mind was on the intention of God, but theirs, just on religion. Bodily, the Pharisees were living on the same land with Jesus, but spiritually, in a different world. They chose not to live with Jesus in God’s kingdom; but they chose to destroy him (Mark 3:6).
We have the same choice now: Will we do like the Pharisees, focusing on just religious regulations and doctrines, or will we live like Jesus who loved people, sinners, and in love sacrificed himself for them? In short, which will we do between religion and love?