I have had the story of Jesus healing the man with a withered hand in Matthew 12, Luke 6, and Mark 3, in mind for close to a month now. The part of the story that has most struck a cord with me is that Jesus told the man “stretch out your hand”.
If I had a withered hand, or a diseased foot, or some really unsightly part of my body, I might be pretty upset by some pastor telling me to expose the thing, especially in the presence of uppity, but socially important, religious teachers. It seems like this command from Jesus, which has parallels in Jesus’ other healings, reveals something fundamental about the nature of Jesus’ healing ministry, both while on earth and now through the spirit of God at work: Jesus won’t heal us until without exposing the sickness.
Jesus could have taken the man aside, so that there was no risk involved, and spare the man the shame of having everyone around see the ugly hand in full. Instead, Jesus asked the man to “stand up in front of everyone”, in what was the Jewish version of a church building. Then, Jesus told him to stretch out his hand. Amazingly, the man, I’m guessing with an intense mixture of trust and fear, did it.
Not only is it hard for us to stretch out our withered hands, but I’ve witnessed how we really don’t like others doing it. I’m not just spiritualizing the moral here to be about “emotional” or “psychological” healing either. We can become uncomfortable around people with chronic illness, unsightly disease, and even people who are just really, really, old.
Perhaps this is because others’ withered hands are a reminder that we have one too, could end up with one, or (in the case of old age) will inevitably be there one day ourselves. The kind of bold-faced living that Jesus called the man with the withered hand to violates all kinds of social norms; following Jesus tends to do that. But, as “the body of christ”, it seems vital for christian communities to create the opportunity for us to expose our withered hands.
Of course, in a culture that shuns death and disease, there’s an unhealthy tendency to want to fix everything with immediacy, this could be falsely clothed in the desire for us to see others “healed”. Exposing our own withered hands however, will undoubtedly counteract this attitude. When we do that, it becomes obvious that God is not in the business of being “economical”. Sometimes physical or mental healing takes time. Some conditions are not going to be healed.
What we should not doubt, however, is that “stretching out our hands” is the best way to live.