Every Sabbath, Jesus customarily went to the synagogue in whatever town or city in Galilee he happened to be at the time and would teach. (Compare Luke 4:16.) On this particular occasion, scribes, Pharisees, and a man afflicted with an atrophied, paralyzed, or crippled right hand were present among those assembled. The scribes and Pharisees watched whether Jesus would cure the man, seeking to accuse him of violating the law. Probably one of their number raised the question, “Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:9, 10; Mark 3:1, 2; Luke 6:6, 7)
In response, Jesus asked whether a man whose sheep had fallen into a pit on a Sabbath would not lift it out. (Matthew 12:11) Those who were seeking an accusation against Jesus knew that it would primarily be in the man’s interest to help his sheep and that his doing so would, to a lesser extent, be for the sake of the animal. A man, as Jesus pointed out, had greater value than a sheep, and so it was allowable to do good on the Sabbath. He then requested the afflicted man to stand up and position himself in front of everyone. Their seeing him should have given rise to feelings of compassion and a desire to see him cured. The way they reasoned, as Jesus knew, did not allow them to respond mercifully. They would have been more concerned about making sure their sheep was safe than about promoting the welfare of a fellow Israelite. (Matthew 12:12; Mark 3:3; Luke 6:8)
Jesus asked, “Is it permissible on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save a life [soul], or to kill?” For Jesus to have left the man in his afflicted state when he was in a position to bring him relief would have been a callous act or evil. Apparently recognizing what Jesus’ question implied in relation to the man, those assembled refused to answer. As Jesus looked around at the faces of those in the synagogue, he saw no evidence of fellow feeling for the man. Their lack of compassion angered and greatly distressed him. He then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” Immediately the man’s right hand was restored to the sound condition of the left hand. (Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:4, 5; Luke 6:9, 10)
Infuriated at what they regarded as a violation of the Sabbath, the scribes and Pharisees were determined to put a stop to Jesus’ activity. Although they were at enmity with the supporters of Herod Antipas, they thereafter joined them in plotting how they might destroy Jesus. To attain their objective, they needed the political backing of those whom they actually hated and so were willing to cooperate with them in an effort to rid themselves of the object of their hostility. (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:6; Luke 6:11)
According to Jerome, the evangel the Ebionites used referred to the man as a mason who pleaded with Jesus to restore his hand so that he could again make a living and not have to endure the disgrace of being forced to beg for his food.