By Noelle Sterne
When we want something—a healing, supply, a relationship, a wonderful outcome of any kind—we often pray to God to give it to us. Our prayers often take the form of fervent asking, supplication, even begging, sometimes accompanied by complaining or rage (Why me, Lord? It’s not fair . . .).
But these are ways not to get what we want.
Jesus’ healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-7; Matt 12: 9-13; Luke 6:6) shows us what to do. In our pleading and entreating God, we may not like the lesson of this healing. Nevertheless, it offers us guidance, and more importantly, rather than all that entreating, the right mindset.
Many interpretations of this story have been advanced, from the almost literal to the highly allegorical. I am not a Bible scholar but a reader and seeker. Here I offer what the meaning means to me, and hopefully to you, with application in our daily lives.
What Did Jesus Do First?
In the story, it was the Sabbath, and the temple was crowded with people. Apparently, the man was far back in the crowd. What did Jesus do? The first thing He did is often minimized or ignored. In various versions, He commanded him: “Stand forth,” “Rise up in the midst,” “Stand forth in the midst,” “Come to the front,” “Come here.” In other words, come to the front of the crowd where everyone can see you.
Why did Jesus ask the man this?
Two possibilities: He was testing the man’s desire to be healed and to be an example. Jesus also knew that the temple elders were watching him closely to try to discredit him, and He wanted them to see the healing.
For us? We are asked to stand up and recognize we need healing. We are asked to come forth to claim our healing.
What Did the Man Do?
At Jesus’ words, what did the man do? He obeyed.
For us: When God (our Inner Guidance) calls us to do something, we have a choice: we can come up front and obey or hang back in the crowd of our fears. For example: if we see that our finances may be “withered,” we have a choice: lament, wring our hands, yield to fear and panic. Or ask and obey: “What should I do, Lord?”
The answers always come: “Call this one, email that one, join this group to advertise your services, refresh your website.” As we obey, our weakened situation is healed.
Significance of the Sabbath
The Pharisees always looked to invalidate and disprove Jesus, to trap him and show Him as a nonbelieving Jew. They interrupted his attention to the man by asking if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath (they knew it was against the Judaic law). In Matthew, Jesus shut them down quickly with an analogy of a lost sheep—whatever the day, Sabbath or not, the shepherd will rescue one of his flock.
What does this mean for us? Every day is for going to God, no matter whether we’re supposed to be resting or not. God is always available, despite human calendars and customs. We can always go to God.
What Is Withered?
The man’s hand, the Bible says, was withered—which can also mean shriveled or paralyzed. We don’t know how long he had this condition, but Jesus didn’t ask or seem to care.
How are we withered? How much has our faith shriveled? Are we stuck, ineffective, paralyzed in moving forward in our faith in the Good? Are we weak, wasted, wasting our efforts and time?
What Was Jesus’ Second Request?
After the man came forward, Jesus again asked him to act: Stretch forth your hand, He said, stretch out, reach out, reach forth, extend, hold out your hand. For us? Do what our senses have told us has been impossible. Suspend our rationality and “yes, buts.”
The man stretching forth his hand also indicates that he must have had trust in Jesus. Otherwise, he might well have protested and hid in the crowd. But he didn’t. We know he obeyed for this second time because the next verse tells us the hand was restored.
So, again for us: let us stretch forth beyond our physical sense evidence. Granted, this may be one of the hardest things we are called to do. Jesus did it with every single “miracle”—water that became wine, and people with many illnesses—paralysis, issue of blood, fever, mental torments, leprosy, even death—a widow’s son, a synagogue ruler’s daughter, Lazarus, and of course Himself. He never let the material senses stop Him.
Today’s Similar Direction
Following Him, when we seek healing, we are counseled by many New Thought authors to look beyond the physical, real and convincing as it may be. That is our first test of obedience. “Instead of seeing a part of our bodies as diseased or useless, we lift our vision to the spiritual plane and visualize not only that part, but our entire bodies as perfect” (Winifred Wilkinson Hausmann, “The Secret of Healing,” Wonderful, Marvelous You, Unity, 1996, p. 45).
Metaphysical author Neville Goddard instructs:
If you desire health, you must assume it, even though the doctor’s reasoning world produces proof to the contrary. You must be ever aware that they are not your God, that there is only one God and his name is I am! (https://nevillegoddardlessons.com/tag/how-to-heal/, 2016).
Spiritual teacher Joseph Murphy relates how a mother’s financial supply to attend her son’s graduation came about. He advised her to imagine “her objective as an accomplished fact,” and she was supplied (How to Use the Laws of Mind, DeVorss, 1980, p. 42).
In an often-quoted statement, spiritual author and speaker Wayne Dyer promises us: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
And from A Course in Miracles: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact” (Workbook, Lesson 304, Foundation for Inner Peace, 1978, p. 441).
Whatever the “reality” appears, we are asked to stretch our perception. Beyond the senses, we are asked to imagine and visualize ourselves as whole.
And We Shall Be Restored
When the man with the withered hand obeyed Jesus, his hand was restored “like the other.” When we obey and take the action requested (what our Inner Light tells us), we are restored in God, whatever our need. We are asked to trust, even without knowing the outcome. It’s as if God is saying, “Follow this step and I will give you the next.” When the Israelites were supplied with manna, it was for the day. When they tried to hoard it, it went bad (Exodus 16: 4, 19-20).
To trust without knowing isn’t an easy step. But that’s what trust means. The man with the withered hand had trust when he obeyed Jesus the first time by coming to the front of the crowd and may not have even known why Jesus called him.
Many would say the hand couldn’t possibly be restored. We’re asked to jettison logic and see beyond the present reality. We’re asked to give up the need to be reassured in advance or know what the outcome will be. We are asked to surrender, to trust the moment, to every moment. Each in our own way and with our own challenges, let us stretch out and stretch forth, trust, heal, and grow.
© 2023 Noelle Sterne