“Joel, I don’t know ’bout you, but I don’t like this,” said Amos. He and Joel were part of the crowd following Jesus. They were on their way to the synagogue in the next town. To get there, they had to walk the dirt roads that wound through the grain fields.
“I know, man, but we got to neutralize this guy. He’s dangerous,” said Joel.
“How is he dangerous? I mean, what has he done to hurt anyone? I just see him helping people. I hate being a spy,” Amos said.
“Amos, have you forgotten the ass-whipping those son of a bitches gave us at the temple? When those bastards threw us out and tore up all our shit, they sealed their own fate when they did that,” said Joel.
“I know,” said Amos, “but since that time, what harm has he done?”
“Don’t you understand, Amos? If he has his way, we’re out of a job. He’s saying the rules don’t matter. And that’s going to be his downfall. We’ve got to catch him breaking the rules, and then we can discredit him and his message.”
“Yeah, but this guy knows the rules better than anyone else,” said Amos. “I’m telling you, man, this son of a bitch quotes scripture like he wrote it.”
“Look, we’ve got our marching orders,” said Joel. “Any infraction, no matter how small, we’ve got to call them on it.”
“Joel, if we live by the strict letter of the law, we’re all guilty. I mean, look at those two guys over there, Peter and Andy. They’re brothers, but they’re also disciples of Jesus. They’re picking sunflower seeds along the side of the road and eating them as they walk. Nothing wrong with that, except today is Saturday. Technically, they are breaking the law by harvesting. They’re working on the Sabbath.”
Joel stopped in his tracks. “Amos, you’re a genius.” Joel broke into a run and caught up with Jesus. “Teacher, why do your own disciples break the law by harvesting on the Sabbath?” said Joel, pointing toward Pete and Andy.
Peter, crunching sunflower seeds, walked over and stepped between Jesus and Joel. Towering above Joel, Peter slowly turned his head and spat one of the empty sunflower hulls onto the ground. “You kiddin’ me, boy?” said Peter. He put yet another sunflower seed into his mouth and crunched it in Joel’s face.
Jesus put his hand on Peter’s shoulder and, smiling, gently pulled him back. A crowd quickly gathered, expecting to see a fight.
Amos watched as Jesus turned to Joel. “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his friends were really hungry?” asked Jesus. “They entered the house of God, and they all ate the consecrated bread, which was against the law. That bread was only for the priests.”
Amos shook his head. He watched Joel just stand there, not knowing what to say. I warned Joel that this guy knew a lot about the scriptures, thought Amos.
“Oh yeah,” said Jesus, “and what about the fact that the scriptures teach that even though the priests, working their tails off sacrificing and preaching on Saturdays and thereby desecrating the Sabbath, are nonetheless innocent?”
He gotcha on that one too, Amos thought, now feeling kind’a sorry for Joel. Amos watched as Jesus’s demeanor suddenly changed. His smile disappeared. Amos could swear he felt the temperature drop.
“I tell you that one greater than the temple is here,” said Jesus. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ then you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Joel, displaying uncharacteristic wisdom, turned and walked back into the crowd. He stopped and stood by Amos.
“Did he just refer to himself as the ‘Son of Man’?” said Joel.
“I think he did, but I’m not sure,” said Amos.
“So is he saying that he is the Lord of the Sabbath?” asked Joel.
“I think that’s what he said, or meant to say, but I’m not sure,” answered Amos.
“If he is, then that son of a bitch is blaspheming. And what did he mean with all that gobbledygook about mercy versus sacrifice?” said Joel.
“I think I’ve heard that saying before, but I really don’t have a clue,” said Amos.
“Well, let’s follow them to the synagogue. Maybe they will do or say something there we can use,” said Joel.
“Haven’t you had enough of getting yo’ ass kicked for one day?” asked Amos.
Joel grabbed the head off a nearby sunflower plant, rubbed it between his hands, then popped a couple of seeds into his mouth. “Come on. We’re gonna see what he does in church.”
The two rejoined the crowd and made their way to the synagogue in town. Inside, they took seats near the front. As Amos sat down, he noticed that the man sitting next to Joel had a severely crippled right hand. In fact, he thought it looked like a little bitty shriveled baby hand.
The rabbi of the synagogue waited for everything to settle down, and then he called the church to order. “We have with us today a man many of you have probably heard of. He’s a teacher from Nazareth. His name is Jesus. It has been reported that he has extraordinary powers to heal others, ha, as if by magic.” The rabbi snickered, as did many throughout the church. “As is our custom, he will read from the scriptures today.”
Jesus stood and walked to the front.
Amos noticed that Joel, instead of looking at Jesus, was staring at the man next to him with the little bitty baby hand. Joel turned abruptly back toward Amos and whispered with a smile, “I’ve got an idea. Watch this.”
Amos cringed, and whispered to himself, “please don’t.”
Jesus was opening the scriptures, but before Jesus could begin reading, Joel stood. “Teacher,” said Joel, speaking with a flourish, “this man sitting next to me has a shriveled hand. Tell us, if you can, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
The church grew deathly quiet. Amos realized Joel’s question was nothing short of brilliant. This was a challenge to ‘put up or shut up.’ Certainly, Jesus couldn’t heal a person with such a deformity. Anyway, the law made it permissible to help someone medically on the Sabbath only in an emergency, but forbade the general practice of medicine, just like all other work. This was not an emergency. If Jesus tried to heal the man and was unsuccessful, as he surely would be, then it would show he was both a phony and a lawbreaker. If by some ungodly miracle, the man was healed, then Jesus would nonetheless be guilty of breaking the law and would have done so in full view of the whole congregation. Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Joel sat down, clearly pleased with his own performance. The front of the church was filled with priests and Pharisees. Amos could see that many of them, like Joel, were grinnin’ like possums.
Wham! The sudden slamming of the book by Jesus made everybody jump.
Jesus’s anger was apparent in his voice. “If any of you boys had a sheep and it fell in a ditch on the Sabbath, you gonna grab it and pull it out, or you just gonna wait till the next day?” Jesus paused for a few seconds. “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep?” he asked.
Jesus walked toward Joel and Amos. Amos’s heart began to race, but, thankfully, Jesus passed them by. Jesus helped the man with the little bitty baby hand to his feet and led him to the front of the church. “Please, sir, said Jesus to the man, turn and face the crowd.” Turning and addressing the congregation, Jesus said, “So I ask y’all, what’s lawful to do on the Sabbath, good or evil? To save life or to kill?”
The grins disappeared.
Jesus paused for what seemed like an eternity but must have been only a few seconds. He then turned back to the man with the deformed hand and said compassionately, “Stretch out your hand.”
The man stretched out his right hand, and, as if by magic, the little bitty baby hand grew to the same size as his normal, healthy left hand.
A gasp rose from the crowd. Many of those in the church broke and ran out, and kept on running, including Amos and Joel.
Once they felt like they had gotten far enough away from the church, they stopped. They stood still, hiding behind a tree while they caught their breath. After a few moments, Amos asked Joel, “Did that shit just happen?”
Joel was clearly shaken. “We’ve got to go back and tell Caiaphas about this. We can’t just discredit this guy; we’ve got to kill him. He’s evil.” Joel thought for a moment. “And I think I know another group that will jump at the opportunity to help us.”
This fictional account is taken from Mathew 12:1–14; Mark 2:23–28; 3:1–6; and Luke 6:1–11.