The Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand

READINGS

Ex 31:12-17
12 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying. 13 Now you, speak to the sons of Israel saying, Surely, My Sabbaths shall you keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations to know that I, the LORD, am sanctifying you. 14 Hence you will keep the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Profaners of it shall be put to death, yea death, for if anyone is doing work in it, that soul will be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh day is a Sabbath of cessation, holy to the LORD. Everyone doing work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death, yea death. 16 Hence the sons of Israel will keep the Sabbath so as to make the Sabbath a perpetual covenant throughout their generations. 17 Between Me and the sons of Israel it shall be a sign for the age, for in six days the LORD dealt with the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased and was refreshed.

Matt 12:1-14
1 At that season Jesus went through the sowings on the Sabbaths. Now His disciples hunger, and they begin to be plucking the ears and to be eating. 2 Now the Pharisees, perceiving it, say to Him, “Lo! your disciples are doing what is not allowed to be done on a Sabbath.” 3 Yet He said to them, “Did you not read what David does when he hungers, and those with him: 4 how he entered into the house of God and they ate the show bread, which he was not allowed to eat, neither those with him, except the priests only? 5 “Or did you not read in the law that on the Sabbaths the priests in the sanctuary are profaning the Sabbath and are faultless? 6 Now I am saying to you that a Greater than the sanctuary is here. 7 Now if you had known what this is: Mercy am I wanting, and not sacrifice-you would not convict the faultless, 8 for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 9 And, proceeding thence, He came into their synagogue. 10 And lo! a man having a withered hand. And they inquire of Him, saying, “Is it allowed on the Sabbaths to heal?” that they should be accusing Him. 11 Now He said to them, “What man of you will there be, who will have one sheep, and if ever this should be falling into a pit on the Sabbaths, will not take hold of it and raise it? 12 Of how much more consequence, then, is a human than a sheep! So that it is allowed to be doing ideally on the Sabbaths.”  13 Then He is saying to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretches it out and it was restored, sound as the other. 14 Now, coming, the Pharisees held a consultation against Him, so that they should be destroying Him.

Arcana Coelestia 8495[3]
What was represented by the requirement that they should not do any work on the Sabbath day is…that they must not do anything that begins in themselves, only what begins in the Lord. For the angelic state in heaven is such that they do not will or do, they do not even think or utter, anything that begins in themselves or what is properly their own. This is what their being joined to the Lord consists in. Not doing anything that begins in themselves is meant when it says that they should not do their own will, nor do their own ways, nor find their own desire, nor speak [their own] words. This state existing with the angels is the heavenly state itself; and when they are in it they experience peace and rest. Also the Lord has rest, for when they have been joined to Him their labour ceases; they now abide in the Lord.

SERMON
The miracle from the Gospel’s we are focusing on in today’s sermon is the Lord’s healing of a man who has what is described as ‘a withered hand’.  The teachings of Spiritual Christianity offer us a way of seeing the Sacred Scripture as it relates to us personally, to the inner life of our minds, so that everything described here in the Word as a historical event involving a physical healing can be seen to represent spiritual or eternal realities that are not limited to the past but belong in the eternal present where the Lord is ever at work bring healing and wholeness to the individual and collective mind that constitutes human consciousness.

Everything in our reading today describes the operation of inner spiritual principles that govern the regeneration of the human mind so that we might have our sense of self elevated out of the natural level of existence into what is genuinely spiritual – these processes take us from being centered on the loves of self and the world, to a life centered on loving the Lord and our neighbour, or loving what is genuinely good and true.  The Sacred Scripture and Heavenly Doctrine, the Word, is given to support our spiritual growth and development for it is given by the Lord with the express purpose of drawing forth what is good and loving as our life.  This is why the Word is Divine truth, for the purpose of truth is to give expression to love and so the Word deals with exposing what prevents the expression of love in our life so that these obstacles can be removed and we can be set free to live the life that the Lord fully intends for us to live, a life filled with the love and peace of heaven.  This is the Gospel, the good news for all of mankind, that we can be set free from what binds us, that we can find psychological and spiritual wholeness, and so real purpose and meaning for our lives.

So the Word is more than a book of stories of ancient history, it is as we shall see as we unpack our story for today, a profound mirror that reveals the truth concerning our inner states of life and offers a way forward for all of us if we are willing to enter into the spiritual work of examining the quality of the life of our mind while looking to the Word to find new ways of approaching life that stand above the habitual patterns of natural thoughts and feelings that have developed over the course of our lives.  Without exposure to truths, we are invariably left to our own devices to draw from influences from the external world to form the beliefs, values and attitudes that we adopt as our sense of self.  Often these beliefs and attitudes lack any spiritual perspective.  And if we do come into contact with spiritual or religious ideas these are often mixed with natural philosophies which have robbed them of their religious and spiritual origins, so we find that they have lost their life and become set in traditions, and rituals, and doctrines, that have become so far removed from the lived experience that gave birth to them that they lack any real spiritual power.  Spiritual work requires us to use what we have to return to the source so that we can separate the coarser external elements from the finer internal things of the spirit and enter into the life we have been created for.

When our philosophy of life, our traditional or historical faith, is no longer able to support us as it once did, when we find that the truth that we have held to no longer works for us, when our life experience begins to show us the cracks in the psychological defenses we have built up around our personality, when our tradition, our doctrine, our understanding of what life requires of us is no longer is able to support us to do what we feel we should be able to do we stand in need of help.  When we discover things in our life that are destructive of, or don’t reflect, what it means to be spiritual in our approach to life, and desire to set free of ways of being that hinder rather than promote a spiritually positive approach to life, our ways of being can be said to lack the living water that keeps our spiritual life fresh and dynamic.

This state of need and desire for change is called, ‘a man with a withered hand’.  Spiritually by ‘man’ or more accurately by, ‘human’ (Gk anthropos) is meant a state of consciousness or expression of life that arises from an organisation of beliefs, values, and attitudes, that give form to a person’s inmost love.  When we boil it all down our life is really the expression of what we love and believe to be true, our sense of self lies within the thoughts and affections that find their expression through our life.  So when the Scripture speaks of a ‘human with a withered hand’ it speaks of a state of mind that lacks the power to do what it really wants to do.  The word ‘withered’ indicates what is lacking here, for something to be withered is for it to lack water, which is exactly what the original Greek word means.  Spiritually and psychologically when the Scripture speaks of water its referring to truths from the Word.  In the book of Proverbs it states…

The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters, and the fountain of wisdom is like a flowing brook. (Pr 18:4)

Jesus speaking of the spiritual water he gives states in the Gospel of John…

Whoever drinks of the water I will give him will never thirst again, but the water I give him will become a fountain of water spring up to eternal life (Jn 4:14)

So this story is about states of not being able to do, or live as we desire to, because our current understanding of truth is no longer able to support us to live life in accordance with what we understand the Word teaches regarding the spiritual life.

We see in our story that there is a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees that centers on different understandings of what is and isn’t acceptable conduct on the Sabbath.  These different understandings, and the conflict that arises, reflects a process of sorting that occurs within our own minds as we work through the conflict that arises when a new way of understanding spiritual truths challenges that understanding that may have served us well up until this point.  The Scriptures have levels of meaning, on their surface is a natural meaning and within this lies its spiritual meaning.  The natural meaning has applications for natural or external life, but its internal meaning is a level of meaning that is given for the application of truths to the inner life of a person mind.

When the emphasis is on the external meaning of the words themselves they are then taken literally and are expressed in external forms that reflect this kind of understanding. The Pharisees were traditionalists and literalists, and represent a particular attitude in us all that holds to its understanding of truth without compromise, is ridged, unyielding, and as such lacks mercy and compassion. The Lord, who represents the internal meaning of the Word, carries a very different understanding that is in keeping, not with the letter of the law, but is focussed on its spirit. Paul highlights the difference when he wrote the Corinthian Church saying…

…we…[are] servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the spirit, for the letter kills but the spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6)

And Jesus Himself said…

The words I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. (Jn 6:63)

The spiritual meaning of the Word comes to us often as ‘a still small voice’ (1Kings 19:12) that challenges the attitudes and values we are giving expression to in our lives. It gently points out what needs attention if we truly want to have changes made in our life, yet more often than not we ignore this voice, or the established unhelpful patterns of thought and feeling that we unconsciously live from, represented by the Pharisees, begin to exert their power in an attempt to silence the Lord’s promptings.

The Lord is interested in one thing that we undertake to engage with Him as the Word to apply its truths to our mental life so that we can become more aware of the quality of our thoughts and affections so that we can work with Him to have those things that are opposed to His love within our mind removed.  To understand Scripture spiritually is to understand it in this way, for our spirit is our mind.  Everything in the natural mind resists the spiritual, which means there are powerful internal forces that will do everything in their power to prevent us from examining our inner life.  If we are aware of this we can seek to do something about it. What the Word offers us here are insights into the fact that our own Pharisaical attitudes will dismiss or minimise the need to engage with the Word in this way – that is they will “conspire to destroy Him” who is the Word Itself.

The term Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means “to rest”.  For the literalist and traditionalist it refers to a day when God is honoured, and worship is to be conducted, often in a formalised or ritualised way.  For the Pharisees it meant that certain things were forbidden, so far as people’s external conduct was concerned, and that God was to be honoured through not doing anything that transgressed what the letter of Scripture and their traditions demanded of people on that day.  So we see that they objected to the disciples picking and extracting grain to eat because this constituted work and work was forbidden on the Sabbath.  The Lord countered this, as we saw in the reading, by drawing on examples from the Word that the Pharisees would have been very aware of.  This incensed them because they were effectively trapped by their own literalism to either acknowledge the teaching that Jesus brought with its emphasis on mercy or reject it – they chose to plot to kill Him.

But the term Sabbath, while it became associated with a natural day of the week on which people rested from secular work to honour and worship God on the natural plane of life, spiritually, has nothing to do with a day of the week or cessation from secular work.  It actually describes a state of mind that arises from doing spiritual work.  The mind can be said to be at rest when its organisation conforms to the Lord’s intention for it, that is, when a true “human” comes into being who is created in the image and likeness of God through it having been regenerated by the Lord.  A mind not in this form is a mind that is conflicted, is not at rest, nor experiences true peace, because it refuses to acknowledge that the Lord is the Word. It is the Word that is able to transform the human mind into its own image and likeness, and so Spiritual Christianity challenges all people to open themselves up to engage with it so that they might experience firsthand its power to bring forth goodness in their lives.  That challenge is captured in the Lord’s words to the man with the withered hand…

13 Then He is saying to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretches it out and it was restored, sound as the other.

To stretch out our hand in response to the Lord’s Word is to acknowledge that the Word has the power to restore our life through efforts to live from what it teaches.

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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