Commentary on the Gospel of
“Stretch out your hand.”
This text offers a sharp contrast between a religiosity focused on laws, judgment, and purity codes, and the gospel of Jesus. It is wrong to regard this as a contrast between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews. By the same token, Christians are every bit as capable of ascribing limits to God’s mercy. In fact, it seems to be a congenital defect among people of all religious traditions to draw a circle that includes themselves among God’s favorites and excludes everybody else. “Stretch out your hand,” Jesus says—dramatically poking a hole in such exclusiveness.
God’s law is directed to mercy, to goodness, to saving life. That is what the Sabbath and religious law are for—not to bolster our own sense of superiority. How ironic that in this case the good religious people take this good news as a pretext for seeking to destroy Jesus. Before we smugly assume that we, as Christians, are on the right side of this story, let us ask ourselves if we are not also capable of assuming that God’s love is our special property. If so, let us shudder at the thought that Jesus is also looking with “anger and deep sadness” at our hardness of heart.