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Stretch Out Your Hand
by Cynthia Bowen
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His Sabbath day had started much as they always did. However, he realized as he walked to worship service that there seemed to be a sense of expectancy, even in the busy streets. As he entered the synagogue, all the men were talking excitedly. He hid his withered hand in the folds of his robe as he made his way to the back of the room, trying to catch bits of conversation as he went. A visiting Rabbi was going to be teaching from the Torah this morning, not just any rabbi, but Jesus of Nazareth Himself was coming.

News about this charismatic Preacher had spread throughout the whole countryside, and now He was coming to speak at his synagogue. Rumor had it that when Jesus spoke, devils fled from Him. Some people believed that Jesus was a new prophet that God had sent to His people Israel. Others thought that He might even be the long awaited Messiah. On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes often spoke of Him disparagingly, calling Him a charlatan or worse.

Thinking about the scribes and Pharisees, the manís eyes darted to the front of the room where they were seated very dignified in their prominent places. With a start, he realized that he had somehow attracted their attention. The glances back to him and the shared whispers among the religious leaders seemed almost malicious. The men began to motion him forward to a front seat in the room. He rose reluctantly and made his way to his new seat, pulling his clumsy, withered hand closer to his side as he felt the blood rushing to his face.

Excitement overcame his embarrassment as Jesus entered the room. He was younger than the man had expected, and seemed oblivious to the suspicious looks the scribes kept shooting at Him. With a confident smile, He rolled open the scrolls and began speaking. The man listened carefully as the gracious words fell from the lips of the Nazarene. It seemed like he was hearing the ancient words for the first time as the Teacher expounded on them.

Finally, he realized that Jesusí eyes had fallen on his own worthless hand. He pulled it back under the folds of his robe, but Jesus had already turned his gaze toward the scribes and Pharisees who were watching Him intently. A small smile played around His lips as He turned back to the man.

ďRise up and stand here in the midst,Ē Jesus invited him warmly. His heart leapt as he stood up and walked forward to meet the Teacher. His mind raced as Jesus reproved the hard-hearted attitude of the religious leaders. Could the rest of the stories be true? Could this amazing Rabbi really do miracles? Finally, the piercing brown eyes turned back to him.

A moment of panic struck him as Jesus said, ď Stretch forth your hand.Ē First, he wondered if this were some kind of cruel joke. Didnít the Rabbi realize that he was the only person in the room who couldnít obey such a simple command? He looked into Jesusí face and the look he saw on it quickly dispelled fear and doubt. Faith leaped up inside him, and he stretched his hand out. His wrist popped and stretched as it straightened for the first time in years. His gnarled fingers untwisted and fell into even lines. As he turned his hand over, he barely recognized the palm as his own.

Tears filled his eyes as laughter bubbled up inside him. God had seen him struggling and had compassion on him. The scowls of disapproval from the religious rulers no longer mattered as he thanked Jesus. Sabbath had finally come to him.

This manís story resonates with so many of us today. We can understand this manís plight. His withered hand was humiliating and made life difficult for him, but it didnít totally debilitate him. He had learned to accommodate his problem in order to live everyday life. Not only can we understand his lifestyle, most of us can identify with it as well.

Life has a way of wounding us and we have learned to hide those painful areas from any prying eyes that may see them. Some wounds were inflicted by cruel abuse from those who should have been our protection. For others, the pain came from betrayal of covenant relationship. No matter the weapon used, the ache is the same and sinks deep into our very souls. It lingers through times of happiness like a shadow just out of our view, waiting to remind us that part of us has withered. It causes our trust to shrivel and our confidence to atrophy. We are less than we were meant to be.

Wounds must be treated properly to heal correctly. If the injury is washed out and dressed accordingly, then healing will occur leaving only a scar to remind us that an injury ever happened. By hiding our wounds, we have allowed them to fester and deepen until that part of us became withered and useless. We go to church and smile as we chat with others around us, all the while hiding our withered hands. We have learned how to accommodate the wounded areas so long that it seems normal to us. However well we hide it from others, we cannot hide our wounds from the God who sees as clearly in the darkness as in the light.

It is into this place that Jesus steps up and gently whispers, ďCome here. Let me help you with your wound.Ē Our choice at that point is simple. We can pull our withered hand closer to protect it, offering ourselves the illusion of hidden safety. After all, we have learned to accommodate our disability and life can go on as it always has for us.

The other choice is to submit ourselves to Godís loving hands. As we stand before Him, fully submitted to the Savior, He begins the miracle process. He may probe the wound to expose the source of our pain. He will wipe away the infected drainage and pour the oil of His presence onto our hurt. Though healing can be instant, the longer we have carried the pain the longer the process of healing may take. However, the Great Physician is not rushing from patient to patient, and He will give us all the time we need. He wants us to be whole.

One day, you will look down where that old withered part of you used to hang and be surprised at how thorough the healing has been. You will be whole yourself, and able to reach out to other hurting people with the balm of Jesusí love. Let me assure you, your pain has caught the eye of the Savior. He has seen you struggling and saw the wound you thought was well hidden. Jesus is standing before you waiting with a gentle smile and sparkling eyes. He wants to bring Sabbath to you. Will you trust Him enough to stretch out your hand?

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