Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, 3:1-6
Jesus is having a lot of back-and-forth with the Pharisees since Mark 2. The author of this Gospel puts two Sabbath episodes together. The previous (2:23-28) is about how the Sabbath was made for man and how the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath (fighting words to the Pharisees). In this particular Sabbath episode, Jesus asks an interesting ethical question: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (3:4) An odd question, given the context. It’s the Sabbath, Jesus is in the synagogue and He just asked a man with a shriveled hand to stand. Surely, no one was killing anyone else.
However, no one was exactly seeming to do good, either. Jesus was probably invoking a form of hyperbole here, but His lesson becomes clear. Jesus restores the man’s hand on the Sabbath. Rather than using one’s day of rest to do the Lord’s work, the Pharisees saw fit to do as little as possible - even helping those in need. But Christ was not abiding by their laws, so Jesus needed to be eliminated. The Pharisees began a plot to kill because this one man healed.
Jesus turns the question of ethics into a double-edged sword. You are either saving lives or killing. If, especially in our quest for holiness, we are not actively restoring the lives of others, then we are no better than Pharisees. In short: Doing nothing about what should be done is evil. So on our Sabbaths (whether you have one ritualistically or sporadically), when we are so focused on becoming more of our idea of holy, we need to ask ourselves:
“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”