On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught,
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
"Come up and stand before us."
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
"I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?"
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
"Stretch out your hand."
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.
Of all the many emotions, memories, images that come to mind on 9/11 - one of the strongest for many people was the overwhelming sense of powerlessness we all felt. It was an unprecedented attack, it was so violent, it was so devastating... In a day and age where we expect instant answers and instant resolution to problems - the fact that people from the President to the most common of citizens had no idea what was happening only exacerbated that feeling of powerlessness in the face of such evil.
This paralyzed man in today’s Gospel can relate to that feeling, that emotion of powerlessness. His withered hand had limited his potential, his ability, his stature in the community. He was viewed and treated as an outcast. He had to rely on the very limited compassion of those around him. Jesus’ miracle was more than just restoring this man’s hand. It was very much about Jesus upsetting the balance of power. If those in authority, particularly religious authorities would look down on this man, judge this disability as divine justice reigning down on him, and then use God’s law to keep the man in this limited space (sorry, it’s the sabbath- we can’t do anything for you....) Jesus would take it away from them. And in one moment, the paralyzed man is told stretch out your hand. Healing...Unprecedented shifts... Unexpected moment of God’s power and presence and love are revealed in that moment.
And that is very true when we think about what happened on this very difficult day. I think of just some of the men I’m privileged to serve as Chaplain to from the West Orange Fire Department - the first group of firefighters who responded to the devastation after the FDNY - who had that drive, that desire, that impulse - yes even that divine call in the face of evil desired to restore power to those for whom it seemed to have vanished.
16 years later, it’s hard not to see that there’s been quite a mess of things from that very day. I think about the loved ones who were lost - and the reality that there is no expiration date for those who grieve is validated once again. If you tuned into the annual reading of the names, you could see and hear that... Those wounds, those pains are very real and present - they just seem to recede a little bit in the years that have passed then they were real in the immediate aftermath.
16 years later, I often wonder how different our world would be today had those few dozen of maniacal terrrorists been unsuccessful. The wars that might not have been waged - the course of history that would have gone in a different direction. But then I catch myself. That’s idle and somewhat useless to fixate on. We have to accept what has happened and face the world as it is rather than how we wished it would be...
But we don’t have to allow the world to remain that way. We can change the present and shift the course of the future. And so, to us, Jesus tells us Stretch out your hand... He tells us to recognize the power that can go forth from our hands, as St. Ambrose once explained: “Hold it out often... Hold it out to the poor person who begs you. Hold it out to help your neighbour, to give protection to a widow, to snatch from harm one whom you see subjected to unjust insult. Hold it out to God for your sins. The hand is stretched forth; then it is healed...”