The Kind of Man He Was
There was a man there [in the synagogue] which had a withered hand — Mar_3:1
He Was an Ordinary Man
If we center our attention on this man we see him as a quite ordinary person. He was one of the crowd of undistinguished people who go to church on the Sabbath day. Tradition says he was a bricklayer, and quite probably that is true. It at least indicates the old belief that this was a quite ordinary person. And one of the striking things about the Gospel is its perennial and amazing power over ordinary people like this bricklayer. He is not like Lazarus, or even Bartimaeus, whose names have come ringing down the aisles of time. The only name his fellow-worshippers had for him was “the man with the withered hand.” And that, from the first, is just the kind of man whom the Gospel has been powerful to handle, and to give back to usefulness again. That is what makes it a universal Gospel—that heavenly power over nameless people. If lack of culture made it ineffectual it could never be preached across the world. And the very fact that it is so preached, and preached with signs and wonders following, proclaims it as of the Son of Man.
His Experience Was Hard and Embittered
Again we recognize him as a person who had had a hard and embittering experience. We feel the force of that more vividly when we turn to the Gospel of St. Luke. One of the charming things about Luke’s Gospel is his illuminative touches in the miracles. Luke was a doctor, with a doctor’s eye, quick to observe everything pathological. He tells us that the leper was “full of leprosy,” and that Peter’s mother-in-law was down with “a great fever”; here he reveals that the hand was the right hand. Nor, mark you, had the man been so from birth. This cruel affliction had come upon him gradually. His hand grew stiff; he lost the power of it; gradually it shrank and atrophied. Until now, when people passed him in the street, they glanced at him with commiseration, and called him “the man with the withered hand.” One thinks of everything that must have meant in a day when there were no insurance’s nor doles. His work gone—his children without bread—his wife a broken-hearted woman. It was a cruel thing, to all appearance meaningless, one of the taunting ironies —the years had brought him, when he was never dreaming of it, a hard and most embittering experience. Such people are always a great company. There will be not a few of them among my readers. Nothing is so hard to bear in life as bitter things that seem devoid of meaning. And the beautiful thing is that it was just that kind of person whom our blessed Savior singled out that day, in a synagogue which would be crowded.
He Had Not Lost His Faith
And then, equally evident is this, that this man had not lost his faith; for first of all the Savior healed him, and faith is indispensable to miracle. Mark you, faith is not always mentioned in the miracles, nor is there any reason why it should be. It seems to me that faith, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. Had you asked this man if he had faith, he might probably have answered in the negative, but Christ saw more in him than the man dreamed. I want to say a very comforting thing, out of a long pastoral experience. I think that many people have more faith than they are ever willing to admit. Life is compact of faith; we could. not live without it; we walk by faith through every common day—but it has never been turned upon the Lord. That is why Christ did not ask if he had faith. The man would probably have answered “No.” But Christ knew him, and read his inmost heart, and saw there what the man had never seen. That is why often the Lord can work so wonderfully, and perform His miracles of grace, on folk who lament they have no faith at all.
He Had Not Given Up the Church
And then this man had not given up the church: that also is a witness to his faith. After his hard and embittering experience he was in the synagogue on that Sabbath day. One can picture him in the old, happy days coming to church with his wife and children; life was pleasant then, and God was good to him, and there was work and bread upon his table. But now, impoverished—dependent upon others—with hungry children and a despairing wife—could you have wondered if he had stayed away? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”—and his wife and children were in want. “The Lord God, merciful and gracious”—had He been merciful and gracious unto him? Quite evidently this was a great big soul, still simply trusting in the God of Jacob, and that the Lord instantly recognized. After that cruel irony, after that seemingly meaningless catastrophe, there he was, in his familiar place, listening to the gracious news of heaven. What need to ask him, “Hast thou faith?” That sweet and simple continuance declared it—and, “being in the way,” he won his crown.
He Found That He Could Do What Up to That Hour He Had Deemed Impossible
But I keep the best wine to the last, for there is one thing more to be said about this bricklayer. He was a man who found that he could do what up to that hour he had deemed impossible. Do you not think his wife had often said to him, “Husband, try to stretch your hand this morning”? And he, feeling a little better perhaps, had tried, and always tried in vain. The delightful thing is that when the Lord commanded, somehow or other it was not in vain: the Lord said, “Stretch it out,” and he just did it. He did not pray about it, nor discuss it, nor plead that it was utterly impossible. To his own intense amazement he just did it, though I daresay he could never tell you how he did it. But we, who know the mind of Christ far more intimately than the despairing bricklayer, are cognizant of the secret of the Lord. There may be seeming ironies in life: there are none in the commands of Christ. When He enjoins, He enables. When He commands, He gives the power. Despondent, on the margins of despair, with an enfeebled will or withered heart, I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.