Verses one to six of chapter three seem to really connect with the final verses of chapter two, in that the questions posed to Jesus seem to unpack the run-in with the Pharisees over his rather liberal interpretation of sabbath-keeping.
If were back then I probably would have sided with the pharisees. When Jesus stuck his finger in their sabbath-affirming eyes, he was, in fact, committing treason, AND bordering on blasphemy.
The sabbath wasn’t just a day off and Jesus wasn’t just thumbing his nose Jewish law. The sabbath, for Jews then and now, is a foretaste of the Great Day of Rest when God will liberate Israel from their pagan oppressors. The sabbath looked back to the beginning of creation when God rested on the seventh day, and marked their liberation from Egypt, the event that made them a nation. So, the sabbath wasn’t just a good idea, it had deep historical roots and resonances of faith.
Which is why Jesus’ behaviour and attitude is so puzzling. Yes, he heals the man with the withered hand, but he must have understood why the pharisees reacted the way they did. Calling the religious leaders “hard-hearted” must have seen irrational when all they were trying to do was protect their faith from foreign incursions. If all they had left was their religious practices, it looked like Jesus was trampling all over what they were trying to preserve.
But I think maybe a better term for the pharisees would be “short-sighted” rather than “hard-hearted.” By performing a healing on the sabbath Jesus was enacting that Great Day of Rest when Israel and the world would be healed from sin and tyranny, and repaired from all its brokenness. They Day when God’s reign of justice, peace, and freedom covers all of creation.
So, maybe, the best time for healing might actually be on sabbath, when we look forward to the Day when God heals the world’s wounds.