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§ 169. The Withered Hand healed on the Sabbath.—The Objections of the Pharisees anticipated and refuted. (Mark, iii., 1-6; Luke, vi., 6-8; Matt., xii., 10.)

A man with a withered hand appeared in the synagogue on a certain Sabbath while Christ was teaching, probably at Capernaum. The Pharisees, perhaps, had brought him there, as they stood by and watched eagerly to see what Christ would do; but the latter saw their purpose, and acted with his characteristic calmness and confidence. Taking no notice whatever of his crafty foes until he had called the sufferer forth into the midst of the synagogue, he then, by putting an unavoidable dilemma to the Pharisees, anticipated all that they could say: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?” This question did not offer a choice between doing or not doing a specific good, but between doing the good or its opposite evil; and even the Pharisees could not pretend to hesitate as to the reply. It was precisely for this reason that Christ so put it.

But was he justified in this? Let us see. The point assumed was, that a sin of omission is also a sin of commission. Whoever omits to do a good act which he has the power and, therefore, the calling to do, is responsible for all the evil that may flow from his omission; e.g., if he can save a neighbour’s life, he ought; and if he does not, he is guilty of his death.451451   Wilke’s objections (Urevangelisten, p. 191) to the word ἀποκτεῖναι are not decisive. A strong word would naturally be used by Christ to give emphasis to the declaration that, it such a case, not to save life, is to kill. So with the case of this lame man; there he was; Christ could cure him; Christ ought to cure him; and, if he did not, would be responsible for the continuance of his impotency. That it was a duty to save life on the Sabbath was taught even by the Pharisees themselves; and, as the spirit of the law required, Christ extended the principle further. The exception allowed by the Pharisees showed that the law could not, unconditionally, be literally fulfilled.

After putting his question, he looked around to see if any of them would venture a reply. All were silent. Then, with Divine word of power, he said to the lame man, “Stretch forth thine hand;” and it was done.452452   It is obvious that the accounts of this event in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written independently of each other, from independent sources; and this seems to confirm their truth. Immediate originality, and the vivacity of an eye-witness, are strikingly exhibited in Luke’s account; e.g., before the Pharisees open their lips, Christ anticipates them both by word and deed; which is much more characteristic than Matthew’s statement. And as for Christ’s words, as given by Luke, being due to a later revision of the original, it is the less likely, because the striking application of which they admit does not lie upon the surface at all. The clause in Matt., xii., 12, ἔξεστι τοῖς Σάββασι καλῶς ποιεῖν, gives a hint of the thought more fully developed in Luke. As to Matt., xii., 11, it may be out of place; and, in that case, may be the same as Luke, xiv., 5, in a different form, the latter being supposed to give the true occasion on which the words were uttered. But it is just as possible that Christ uttered the same thought on two occasions; or that he appended both illustrations to his answer to the question given in Luke, vi., 9.

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