Withered Spirits and the Sabbath

Luke 6:1-11
1On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 6On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

I grew up in the wheat fields of South Dakota. One of my earliest memories is of walking along the edge of a fully ripe wheat field and plucking a few heads off the stalks and rubbing the head into my palm to break off the outer husk. The chaff would then blow way and you would have a wonderfully nutty, sun-warmed handful of plump wheat to eat and enjoy. I can remember that experience like it was yesterday. And every time I read this passage, those memories come flooding back into my mind. The fact that what the disciples were doing was considered “work” by the Pharisee almost makes me laugh.

Luke masterfully places the story of the harvesting of a little grain and the healing of a suffering man back to back, causing us to see the Lord of the Sabbath is Jesus Christ and His standards for what is acceptable are far different from those of Pharisees. Healing the man’s withered hand is an act of goodness and an act of salvation, one absolutely permitted, suitable, required on the Sabbath. The man with the withered hand is a perfect metaphor for the men with the withered spirits but they are juxtaposed because Jesus was able to heal the withered hand. The Pharisees did not see their need or the condition of their withered hearts. Imagine if the man with the withered hand had said “no thank you” when Jesus told him to “stretch out your hand”. That’s what the Pharisees are saying to Jesus when they choose to condemn Him rather than praise Him.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to restore those spirits that are withered and He does that first in our baptism. Then, we have the wonderful gift of Holy Communion that restores and forgives every time we take part in it. The man with the withered hand walked away with a whole hand and a changed life. The blood of Jesus restores our spirits and we have a changed life.