First he tells the crowd they are all wrong, then they accuse him of healing someone on the Sabbath. The crowd becomes a mob…
Thomas, Saturday July 1, 29 CE
Despite my repeated warnings that appearing at the synagogue was a bad idea, Jesus would not be dissuaded and dragged all twelve of us along too. He began well by simply not saying anything at all for the first hour, but eventually someone, like a slave hired to goad reluctant beasts into attacking condemned victims in the arena, asked him a question. It didn’t matter what it was about, because his view would differ from theirs and a discussion would start. At least anywhere else it would be a discussion, but this was Nazareth. The question was about divorce, so Jesus denounced the law and everyone present for permitting divorce when God clearly intended people to marry for life.
By the time he’d contradicted a few more cherished beliefs, almost everyone was turning on Jesus, and the twelve had to form a protective cordon around him. Again and again the people challenged him to perform a miracle, to give a sign of his powers, but he repeatedly refused, saying he could do nothing for them as they had no faith. I liked his argument but wasn’t sure if he had thought it through. Effectively he was saying he could heal the sick and drive out demons using the power of God, but only if people had faith that it would work. So if they had no faith then the power of God had no power, so perhaps it was all down to the person’s belief and nothing to do with God. Fortunately nobody was thinking very logically by now.
Then a man with a shrivelled hand, who had been elbowing through from the back of the crowd, approached Jesus. The room became silent. Would Jesus heal him, despite all he had said about not doing a miracle? Jesus didn’t hesitate.
“Stretch out your hand,” he said. The man did so. The silence became even more silent. You could almost hear the men straining to think of an objection.
“Surely it is unlawful to heal someone on the Sabbath!” someone shouted.
That was it. The whole crowd started accusing Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. It was a familiar argument but I think this lot might have dragged him outside and stoned him, had they not been concerned that stoning might be classed as work. Fortunately Jesus spoke out and the cauldron came off the boil for a moment.
“Which is it lawful to do on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil? To save life or to kill?” The pot started seething again as the men angrily discussed how to respond. By now Peter and Simon were looking over at me with eyebrows raised and jaws set firm. I knew what they meant.
“Get him out, quick,” I hissed. The two men held Jesus tightly between themselves and the three other fishermen formed an offensive line ahead of them, forcing a way through the crowd towards the door, the rest of us gathering round to add what protection we could. As we left, I noticed the man with the withered hand looking confused. He had stretched out his arm but no one seemed to have noticed that the hand had remained withered. Jesus had kept his word after all and not performed a miracle for them. There was another push from the crowd behind us and the man was knocked to the floor, but I couldn’t do anything for him. The cluster of disciples, with Jesus at its centre, was ejected through the door.
Outside , the peace and quiet were striking, and although the sun was at its height in a cloudless sky, it felt much cooler than in the synagogue, and the air was easier to breathe. We headed straight for Matthew’s house and barred the gate.
The sun has set now, the air is cool again and the crowds have dispersed. We are making ready for an early morning departure. I don’t think Jesus will come here again for a while.