Withered Hands

Thanks to a student of mine, I just noticed something I never had before. Let’s take it step-by-step. First, there’s the rather odd self-deprecatory statement in Psalm:

 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! (Psa 137:5 RSV)

It is the mournful sentiment of the exile, away from the Land, looking back on Jerusalem, hoping for the day of return. The day of return is delayed again and again. Even when the people do return from exile, there is a sense that have not really returned. They long for a new exodus to really bring them back. So, when Jesus shows up and starts performing miracles, one of the very first miracles he performs is to restore a man’s withered hand:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1 ESV)

Maybe what we’re looking at here is that the man with the withered hand represents the whole people who truly have “forgotten Jerusalem.” They have not recognized the “time of their visitation” (see Luke 19:44). By restoring the man’s withered hand, Jesus shows how he will completely heal the people. Though they have forgotten him and the place of his dwelling (the Temple), God has not forgotten them, but will bring them to restoration. The man’s withered hand represents the fact that the self-deprecatory oaths that the exiles took have come home to haunt them. They have actually received the due punishment, but God will reach out to heal them and bring them back. Jesus will lead them on a new exodus and their self-cursed bodies will receive healing.

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2 thoughts on “Withered Hands

  1. Mary Stevanus

    I often read your articles on the Catholic Exchange website and they have always been thought provoking. But today I went one step forward to your website for the first time. I am in awe of your November posting of the article, “Withered Hands” – I’ve read those passages so many times in my life, first as a Protestant, then as Catholic, but I never connected the Psalm with the miracle of healing a man’s withered hands in the Gospel. That is awesome! Thanks.
    kirk

  2. Craig Roberts

    King Jeroboam gets a ‘withered hand’ for trying to arrest the mysterious ‘man of God’ that cries out against his alter:

    “And when the king had heard the word of the man of God, which he had cried out against the altar in Bethel, he stretched forth his hand from the altar, saying: Lay hold on him. And his hand which he stretched forth against him withered: and he was not able to draw it back again to him.” 1 Kings 13:4

    So now we have an instance where the withered hand is a punishment from God for trying to silence a prophet.

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