On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. Luke 6:6–10
In the above account, the spotlight is on the Pharisees. Their callous hearts, their manipulation and disregard for those they should’ve shepherded, their disdain for mercy. But after listening to Bill’s recent message, I’ve found my focus shifting toward the afflicted man. Depending on the translation, his hand is described as shriveled, paralyzed, or withered. Whichever word we choose, the appendage neither looked nor performed as it should have. Becoming instead a source of embarrassment and shame. And amazingly, an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus.
So let’s forget about the Pharisees for a bit. And marvel instead at the courage of a man who came out of the shadows into His light.
When I was seven years old, we lived next door to a family who had a beautiful little dog. I don’t remember his name, but even after all these years, I can still see the way he’d prance whenever they took him out, his thick white coat shining in the Georgia sun, his fluffy plume of a tail held aloft. During one particularly hot summer, in the days before air-conditioning, the family decided to shave the poor creature’s coat down to stubble. My guess is that the act was motivated out of kindness. But the dog was mortified. One wouldn’t have thought it would matter. He was just a dog after all. But until his fur grew out, the little guy was in absolute misery, wanting nothing more than to hide. Shorn head down, he’d slink to the back yard to do his business, with what now looked like a possum’s tail tucked tightly between his legs. Daily walks became a thing of the past. He wouldn’t go.
How silly, we think. Yet even those of us who don’t consider ourselves vain cover blemishes, check our reflections in the glass to make sure our hair hasn’t blown out of place, or run tongues over teeth for errant bits of food. How many of us are comfortable having someone show up when there are dirty clothes strewn about, or toothpaste smudges on the bathroom sink?
Hiding, for us humans, is as natural as breathing. Those far smarter than me can explain the tendency in medical and biological terms. But this is what I know. When any part of me feels “wrong,” I don’t want others to see it. My desire to be seen and known doesn’t extend quite that far. I want to be the one who decides what gets seen and when. Flight and isolation suits me just fine, thank you. But though both are intrinsic, they are also dangerous. To our emotional health and well-being, to our souls. Which is why Jesus loves us too much to let us stay in the shadows.
In Luke’s account, the man’s healing began with an invitation. Because Jesus knows. Step one is always about coming out of hiding.
Last year, my husband began attending Recover. Plagued with an ongoing struggle against depression, anxiety, and self-contempt, he chose to come out of the shadows, to heed an inner invitation to “come.” Overwhelmed and depleted with my own challenges at work, I took a pass. I was glad for him, and immensely proud, but I just couldn’t. I had too much on my plate. Anyone could see that. And so, on Thursday nights, when he left for Recover, I didn’t. Hiding instead, putting in a few extra hours at work, then coming home to eat everything in sight.
Nothing got better. Not me, and not the situation. I told myself I just couldn’t, not with everything else on my plate. I told myself that others with bigger issues deserved the support of something like Recover. That I didn’t have it so bad and should just get over it. I told myself all sorts of lies. It was a miserable year.
But when it was over and I was able to look back objectively, I realized my mistake. The supposed quiet I’d craved after crazy days hadn’t refueled me, and the junk food certainly hadn’t restored me.
In the book of Ezekiel, God portrays Himself as a pursuing shepherd who “looks after his scattered flock and rescues them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”
That was me and is me. On the dark days, on days of clouds, I run and hide. I’m so, so grateful for a God who pursues me there, who understands days like that, who doesn’t leave me.
Such were the thoughts in Jesus’ mind when He invited the man with the shriveled hand to stand, to come out of hiding. There is something about standing, isn’t there? The very posture invites vulnerability. But the next request, even more so: “Stretch out your hand.” Bring it to the table. Expose your wounds and brokenness to the light. Let yourself be known.
The Pharisees, of course, were indignant, and perhaps others in the group gasped, or turned away. But in my mind, I imagine others in the crowd, those who carried their own hidden infirmities and shame. Those who drew courage from this man, who—perhaps because of him—ventured toward Jesus at another time, in another place; a leper, a woman who bled, a man born blind.
And the result. Healing.
So, this year, I’ve chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation. First to stand up. Then to come. To bring my stuff to the table. To come out of the shadows. You’ll find me on Thursday nights, at Recover, seated at a table with others who, in exposing their wounds, are learning what it is to be pursued by a God who knows about days of darkness and shadows, who loves us too much to leave us alone.