If I must pick just one story in the book of Mark that speaks most directly into my own life, it is the story of the man with the withered hand (3:3). We know from Luke’s added detail to this story that the withered hand likely represents the loss of vocation – his working hand. Through some unidentified circumstance, the man had lost his ability to continue his vocational craft. His passion and ability had been crushed…and his withered hand now serves as his daily reminder of his withered worth.
It seems that for Mark, this story was more about the withering aftershocks of trauma upon a life than the physical injury of a hand. Mark is well aware of what happens when traumatic loss reaches the soul of a being – a debilitating injury of identity.
This is an example of the kind of “powers” that we are looking for in our journey through Mark. Psychological trauma and misplaced identity/worth are two powerful forces upon and within us. And the list of powers being revealed in Mark are everywhere for those who see and hear.
It is easy to point out the large social oppressors. Rome, Empire, The Temple, the Debt Code, the Purity Laws are easy to recognize in their oppressive forms. But can we see the power of social stigma upon Jesus because of his close association with the poor and the outcast (2:16) and how about the social shame of those weighty familial expectations! Think about the power of fear and shame at work when Jesus’ brothers and mother show up and say, “Jesus, stop embarrassing us with all this liberal social action!” (3:31)
Interestingly, the response of Jesus to the observers within the synagogue reveals an alternative way and power. When asked a simple question…is it better to save life or to kill…they stood stunned and silent, unable to discern goodness because of the thickness of their own judgment and certitude. Mark then states, “He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (3:5)
I reckon hardness of heart is another of those subtle powers readily at work around us today. It is a condition very present in the synagogues of our day. I dare to say that I’ve directly witnessed how god-fearing certitudes and moral condemnation can destroy the worth and dignity of others. Perhaps this is exactly what Mark is hoping we will notice. Jesus noticed, and got angry.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with anger, because anger is never transformative…but it can be very initiatory. Jesus moves in his anger toward grief and then just as quickly to compassionate action.
And that is the alternative power we are asked to see. The power of compassionate action.
Today, think on this: Who can you offer compassionate action to as a means of affirming their dignity and worth?
“Stretch out your hand.”