Healing on the Sabbath
1. And He entered again into the synagogue, and there was a man there who had a withered hand.
2. And they watched Him closely, whether He would cure him on the Sabbaths, that they might accuse Him.
3. And He says to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise in the midst.”
4. And He says to them, “Is it permitted to do good on the Sabbaths or to do evil? To save a soul or to kill?” But they were silent.
5. And looking around at them with anger, being with sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He says to the man, “Stretch out thy hand.” And he stretched [it] out; and his hand was restored, well like the other.
In previous episodes, Jesus showed that it is not a violation of God’s commandments to touch a leper, or eat with sinners, or pluck grain on the Sabbath. When He sat at the table with sinners, eating and drinking with them, He was teaching that repentance from sin begins with hearing the Word of God. This was followed by His disciples plucking ears of corn so that they could eat. Spiritually seen, natural hunger corresponds to spiritual hunger — the desire to learn from the Lord. For this reason, the Sabbath is properly observed when it is regarded as a day for instruction in holy things. 1
But there is more to it than that. The Sabbath should also be a day to exercise love towards the neighbor. In the very next episode Jesus illustrates this by going directly into the synagogue, on the Sabbath, where there is a man with a withered hand. Familiar with Jesus’ attitude about the Sabbath, and hating Him for it, the religious leaders are eager to see what Jesus will do. If He heals the man on the Sabbath, it will be further evidence that Jesus is a wicked blasphemer who must be punished. As it is written, “They watched Jesus carefully, to see whether He would cure him on the Sabbath so that they might accuse Him” (Mark 3:3).
It is sadly ironic that the religious leaders had little interest in witnessing the miraculous healing of a withered hand; instead, their greater interest is in gathering evidence against Jesus. And yet, Jesus was about to teach a lesson of supreme importance. He was about to show that the Sabbath is not only about receiving instruction in holy things, but also about doing the Lord’s will. Both are necessary. At the simplest level, there are only two aspects to religion. The first is receiving truth from God’s Word; the second, even more important than the first, is putting that truth to use in one’s life. This, of course, should be done every day, but this is especially how the Sabbath is honored. To demonstrate this in an object lesson, Jesus says to the man with the withered hand, “Rise up in the midst of everyone” (Mark 3:3). 2
This is the first command. Literally, the words of the command are Ἔγειρε (Egeire) which is an exhortation “to awaken” or “rise up” and μέσον (meson) which means “among us.” In other words, Jesus is asking the man do something, to take some initiative, and to do it right there in the presence of the religious leaders who would certainly see this as some sort of “activity” done by the man with the withered hand, and therefore in violation of their idea of the Sabbath.
Next, turning to the religious leaders in the synagogue, Jesus says, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil? To save life or to kill? (Mark 3:4). They cannot answer; they are not prepared to hear this new understanding of the Sabbath, nor do they want to. As Jesus looks around, He is simultaneously angered and grieved by their unreceptive, hardened hearts, but He is not deterred. Turning again to the man with the withered hand, Jesus says, “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5).
This is the second command. The words “stretch out your hand” contain a divinely given lesson about personal effort. Along the journey of spiritual development, we must do our part. We must strive; we must struggle; we must stretch. And even though the power to do so comes from the Lord alone, we must exert personal effort, allowing the Lord to work through the truth He has given us. This is how we “rise up” and step forward in the midst of the synagogue, holding out our hand to the Lord. Insofar as we do this, making the first effort, the Lord empowers us to keep His commandments. This is how we are healed — by compelling ourselves to stretch at the command of the Lord. As it is written, “And he stretched out his hand, and it was restored as whole as the other” (Mark 3:5).
As the man with the withered hand drew near to Jesus and stretched out his hand, Jesus drew near to him. The same takes place in each of our lives. To the extent that we draw near to God, God draws near to us. Whenever this happens, allowing the Lord to heal us from within, it is the Sabbath. 3
Jesus Silences the Unclean Spirits, Again
6. And the Pharisees came forth straightway and took counsel with the Herodians against Him, so that they might destroy Him.
7. And Jesus departed with His disciples to the sea; and a multitude of many from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea,
8. And from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and [from] across the Jordan; and those around Tyre and Sidon, a numerous multitude, having heard how many things He did, came to Him.
9. And He said to His disciples that a boat should wait on Him on account of the crowd, lest they should throng Him;
10. For He had cured many, insomuch that they fell on Him to touch Him, as many as had scourges.
11. And the unclean spirits, when they beheld Him, fell before Him, and cried out, saying, “Thou art the Son of God!”
12. And He rebuked them much that they should not make Him manifest.
Jesus has introduced several new ways to look at religious life. He has shown that that there is a new way to look at sinners, there is a new way to practice repentance, and a new way to keep the Sabbath holy. This is the new wine that can’t be put into old wineskins and the new cloth that can’t be sewn onto old garments. In brief, it is the new views of religious life (wine) and the new ways of doing good (cloth) that Jesus has come to teach and demonstrate. But the religious leaders, whose thoughts and attitudes are represented by the “old wineskins” and “old garments,” cannot bear it. As it is written, the religious leaders “immediately went out and conspired with the supporters of Herod to plot how they might destroy Jesus” (Mark 3:6).
Jesus, therefore, withdraws and heads for the sea, followed by multitudes of people who have, by now, heard about His miraculous healings. Wherever He goes, the crowds press in upon Him, and many people reach out to touch Him, especially those who have plagues. Somehow, they know and believe that they could be healed if only they could touch Jesus. Even unclean spirits fall down before Him, crying out, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11).
When the unclean spirits cry out in this way, calling Jesus “the Son of God,” He warns them to not make this known. As it is written, “He earnestly charged them, that they should not make Him manifest (Mark 3:12). This has been a continuous theme in this gospel. Over and over again, Jesus has told unclean spirits and demons, and, in one case, a leper, to be quiet and say nothing.
Why was Jesus so opposed to people speaking about His nature and His miracles? One of the most frequently mentioned explanations is that Jesus wanted His identity as the Messiah to be kept secret until after the resurrection. According to this theory, Jesus knew that too much publicity would incite the religious authorities to come after Him before He had accomplished His mission on earth. Therefore, it was important to carry out His mission under the cloak of secrecy for as long as possible.
Another explanation involves the fact that Jesus did not want people to get the wrong idea of His Messianic role. The people had long expected and hoped for a temporal king who would lead them to victory over their physical enemies, alleviate their hunger, and cure their illnesses. But Jesus’ special mission was to be a spiritual king who came to subdue the forces of evil, feed their spiritual hunger, and cure their spiritual sickness. This would necessarily involve a radical idea of the Messiah. Jesus, therefore, was reluctant to have people talk about Him as an external miracle worker, for this was not His primary mission.
This helps to explain some of the reasons why Jesus so often told demons and people to be quiet about what He had done. But there were other times when Jesus neither forbade nor encouraged people to speak. For example, in the previous episode, when Jesus healed the man’s withered hand, He did not forbid the man from speaking. Nor did He encourage Him to do so. In order to understand why Jesus sometimes says, “tell no one” and sometimes says nothing, we will be taking a closer look at each occurrence as it arises in this gospel.
The Danger of Hypocrisy
13. And He goes up into the mountain, and calls to [Himself] whom He willed, and they came away to Him.
14. And He made twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach,
15. And to have authority to cure diseases, and to cast out demons.
16. And He put on Simon the name Peter;
17. And James the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, and He put on them [the] names Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder;
18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the [son] of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Kananite,
19. And Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.
Who is equipped to share the gospel? What special preparation, qualifications, and character traits are necessary? When is it best to speak and when is it best to be silent? While we might expect that those who share the gospel are good people, this is not always the case. Selfish, egotistical people can also understand and share the gospel. This is because the Lord has designed the universe in such a way that the understanding of anyone can be elevated into the light of heaven. From that height, even self-centered people can understand the gospel and share the good news almost as well as an angel of heaven. As we have seen, even the devils of hell referred to Jesus as the “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24) and the “Son of God” (Mark 3:11). 4
These elevated states of enlightenment are provided to help us see the ways in which we have been selfish, self-centered, and inconsiderate. These flashes of insight, in which our understanding is opened, are “mountaintop moments.” They are times of inner illumination when we are separated from our lower nature long enough to gain a clearer view of what is below, and a more elevated understanding of God’s will. If we use these moments wisely, looking to the Lord for the strength to shun the evils that we see in ourselves, a new will can be born in us. 5
Such moments are represented in the next episode where we find that Jesus has gathered His twelve disciples on the mountaintop so that “He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). The disciples have all been personally selected by Him. As it is written, “He called to Him those He Himself wanted” (Mark 3:13). And He has given to them “power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons” (Mark 3:15). On a more interior level, the gathering together of the twelve disciples on the mountaintop represents the gathering together of our highest thoughts and emotions. These are the “mountaintop moments” when we feel closest to God and empowered to “heal sicknesses” (remove evil lusts) and “cast out demons” (get rid of false beliefs that arise from evil). 6
Unfortunately, these inspired moments do not last as long as we might like. For example, in a “mountaintop moment,” someone might say, “I know I should not get angry or be anxious.” But when the person’s lower nature is stirred up, the higher truth has no resting place. There is no good earth for that seed of truth to take root.
These are the times when the person must, as if of oneself, exert effort — called “will power” — so that a new will might be created. Unless evils are shunned, and the person looks to the Lord for the strength to do so, the higher state of consciousness cannot be sustained. In brief, the truth can be beautiful to behold, but it must also be put to use when needed. It is one thing to experience a change of mind. This is where we all must start. But unless this leads to a change of heart, it will do us no good. The old nature will reassert itself and drag us back down to its level again and again. 7
This episode, which began on a mountain, ends with a descent. As each of the disciples is named, the last of the disciples to be mentioned is Judas Iscariot, who, it is said “betrayed Him” (Mark 3:19). This is an image of how the human mind descends from the mountaintop heights of faith to the terrible depths of betrayal.
A House Divided
20. And a crowd comes together again, so that they could not even eat bread.
21. And when those with Him heard [of it], they came out to take hold of Him, for they said, He is stupefied.
22. And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzeboul; and, By the prince of the demons He casteth out demons.”
23. And calling them, He said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?
24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
26. And if Satan stand up against himself and be divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.
27. No one having entered into the house of a strong [one] can plunder his vessels, unless he first bind the strong [one], and then he will plunder his house.
28. Amen I say to you, All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and blasphemies, whatever they shall blaspheme,
29. But whoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness to eternity, but is subject to eternal judgment”
30. Because they said, He has an unclean spirit.
The scriptures are clear that the Lord longs to feed us with heavenly bread. These are the good and true things that come from Him. As we learned in Matthew, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Although Jesus longs to feed us spiritually, a multitude of lower desires get in the way, preventing the reception of spiritual nourishment. We therefore read, as the next episode begins, that “the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread” (Mark 3:20).
This is a picture of each of us at those times when our minds are overwhelmed. A boisterous crowd of worries, concerns, and doubts prevent us from focusing on the voice of the Lord and the things that proceed from Him. The voices of “the multitude” that prevent us from hearing Him are not just the cares of the world and the worries that press into our minds like an aggressive crowd. Seen at a more interior level, these cares and worries are the thoughts and feelings that flow in through evil spirits, filling us with a spirit of denial concerning the divinity of Jesus. “He is out of His mind,” they cry out (Mark 3:21). “He has Beelzebub,” they say. And, “by the ruler of the demons He casts out demons,” they insist (Mark 3:22). 8
But Jesus answers: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23). Jesus’ logic is unassailable. Satan and Beelzebub, in this passage, represent the false thoughts that arise from hell and invade our minds. Falsity cannot cast out falsity; rather, false beliefs support and reinforce each other. Those who choose to deny the divinity of Jesus, for example, or the necessity of keeping the commandments can amass, in a moment, hundreds of false ideas to support their position.
Similarly, whenever people are upset with someone, they can summon up numerous examples to support their negative state. Demonic influences flow in with falsity upon falsity, like flies on putrid matter, ready for a feeding frenzy. Memories of actual events arise in the mind and are presented as evidence. But they are distorted, blown out of proportion, and twisted to support the negative state that one is in.
As Jesus continues His analogy, He compares a divided mind to a divided kingdom. He says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:23-26). In other words, Jesus is saying that false beliefs must work together to accomplish their end. Satan does not cast out Satan, just as false beliefs do not cast out false beliefs. Instead, they band together to accomplish their hellish purposes in the same way that members of a mob cooperate in order to attain their evil ends.
Only truth — divine truth — has the power to cast out falsity. If, however, the power of divine truth is denied, or not accessed, it is as though the human mind has been captured by the enemy and bound up in ropes. Jesus puts it this way: “No one can enter into a strong man’s house and plunder his property, unless he first binds the strong man; then, indeed the house can be plundered” (Mark 3:27). When truth is “bound,” the mind is tied up in false ideas; the inner house — which should be the Lord’s dwelling place — is ransacked. 9
On a more interior level, however, the “divided kingdom” that Jesus mentions is the danger of having a divided mind. This is a mind that pretends to believe what is good and true, and even acts in accordance with that belief, but has darker motives within. For example, the mind of a hypocrite is divided because it appears to be agreeable and flattering on the external level, while, more deeply, it is thinking only of how it can satisfy its selfish desires. 10
The sin of hypocrisy is so serious that Jesus calls it the “unforgivable sin.” We might be inclined to think that there are worse sins than hypocrisy. Sins such as murder and rape come to mind. But hypocrisy is especially diabolical because it invades and destroys the interiors of the mind. And the very worst form of hypocrisy is practiced by those who use the things of religion for their own advantage, twisting truth to serve their own ends, and pretending to be pious to enhance their reputation.
Jesus knows that this was exactly what is going on among the religious leaders who accuse Him of being in league with the devil. But He sees through their pious exteriors to the corruption and hypocrisy within. Therefore, He says to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29).
This is a strong warning, not only to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, but to each of us today. If we are to confess that Jesus is “the Son of God,” if we are to give our personal testimonies about His healing love in our lives, we need to be sure we are doing so from a heart purified of selfish ambition. We need to be sure our testimonies are focused on worshipping God, and not on glorifying our own egos. Otherwise, the admonition directed at the unclean spirits who said, “You are the Son of God,” also applies to us: “He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.” 11
As this episode comes to an end, we read that Jesus has said all these things to the religious leaders because they had accused Him of having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 3:29). Even at the most literal level, that which is unclean cannot eradicate that which is unclean; dirt cannot remove dirt; and filth cannot wash away filth. We need clean water (truth), a scouring agent (the Lord’s power), and personal effort to remove the dirt and filth from our lives. Jesus has already demonstrated His power to cast out unclean spirits. This is the power than can only come from God. To accuse Jesus of having an “unclean spirit” is an unforgiveable sin, not because the Lord is unforgiving, but because it represents the denial of Jesus’ divinity and the refusal to receive the forgiveness He freely offers to everyone.
A practical application:
Hypocrites may pretend to be pious, and even believe in God, while, at heart, thinking only of themselves and what they can gain. In this regard, we need to observe our words and actions, noting to what extent they might appear to be moral, ethical, and “righteous,” while internally they could be motivated by selfish desires and egotistical concerns. Do our inner thoughts align with our good behavior? If not, we may have an “unclean spirit” that must be cast out. 12
On the Inside
31. Then came His brothers and mother and, standing outside, [they] sent to Him, calling Him.
32. And the crowd sat around Him; and they said to Him, “Behold, Thy mother and Thy brothers outside seek Thee.”
33. And He answered them saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”
34. And looking all around at those that sat around Him, He says, “See, My mother and My brothers!
35. For whoever shall do the will of God, this is My brother, and My sister, and mother.”
The warnings about hypocrisy given in the previous episode open the way for understanding the final episode in this chapter. Jesus is somewhere “inside” while His brothers and mother are calling Him to come “outside.” The multitude, who are standing outside, are calling to Him, saying: “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You” (Mark 3:32). Jesus looks around at those who are inside, with Him, and responds, “Here are my mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of God is My brother, and My sister and My mother” (Mark 3:34-35).
Jesus’ whole life on earth was an effort to overcome the evils that He inherited at birth. These evils are represented by the mother and brothers who were on the “outside” — the external nature that He inherited. On the “inside,” however, is His Divine soul: the very Infinite which He called “the Father.” 13
Similarly, we have an exterior nature (the multitude of self-serving emotions and thoughts) and an interior nature (our higher, nobler, and more spiritual inclinations). The exterior nature, which is attached to the delights of the natural world, is constantly calling for our internal, spiritual nature to come out and serve it. This represents the inversion of order characteristic of the merely natural person. Such a person will indeed acknowledge the spiritual, but only insofar as it will serve selfish, worldly interests.
As we have just seen in the previous episode, this kind of hypocrisy is called “the sin against the Holy Spirit.” It amounts to using the higher — God and the Word of God — to serve the lower, the love of one’s self and the love of possessing the things of the world. When this is the case, the higher becomes the servant of the lower, which is the reverse of heavenly order. Self is worshipped above God, and things are valued above people.
Jesus, of course, refuses to allow the “higher self” to become the servant of the “lower self.” Our inherited inclinations to selfishness should never be allowed to rule over or exploit the holy things of religion. Rather, the holy things of religion should govern our lower “hereditary” nature, and this can only come about through a sincere desire to do the Lord’s will. In this context, Jesus looks around at the disciples and the others who are with Him on the inside and says, “Here are My mother and My brothers” (Mark 3:34). And just to be clear that He does not pick favorites, Jesus adds, “Whoever does the will of God is My brother, sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35).
If we are to remain close to the Lord, we must hear His Word and do His will. To the extent that we do this, our mind will no longer be “a house divided against itself.” Instead, it will be a heavenly dwelling where truth and goodness are united, where inner thoughts and outer actions are aligned, and where there is a sacred alliance of good desire, holy truth, and noble endeavor. The disciples, who represent our highest thoughts and aspirations are there with us on the inside, supporting us as we strive to do the will of God.