This is a metaphorical way of speaking of the activity of God in a human way. The word ‘God’ is used by us to refer to the One who is Nameless. There is no word in our human language that adequately expresses the source of all things and life in everything; so we use metaphors which, like all words have limited application and meaning.
In the Bible the word ‘hands’ is used many time, too numerous to enumerate here. If you wish to confirm that look in a concordance. Every reference is a way of speaking of God’s action – creating, attacking, defending, judging, punishing, saving, delivering, guiding, holding, comforting, feeding, to mention only a few. For Israel the word was a means of expressing God as sovereign Lord of history and their source of consolation, purpose and hope.
Stop here for a moment and look at your hands. Examine them closely. Think of how you use them. The Buddhist leader Thich Nat Hahn in his book Present Moment Wonderful Moment writes ‘If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people’. Human genes and DNA confirm that physically, I am one with my forebears and you. That lays a responsibility on me connecting with others. Now think of the action of your hand; it can be used to grasp or give, clinch or caress, hold or hit, soothe or strike, build or break, write or wrench, play or punch – give or receive and whatever the action you choose you are continuing your lineage, representing your people, relating to others and revealing yourself.
In this sense the hands of Jesus are expressing his Father’s loving nature. He places his hand on the child in blessing. He reaches out without hesitation to touch a leper. He takes the blind man by the hand to anoint his eyes and restore his sight. Though Jewish Law declared it would make him unclean to do so he stops a funeral procession to touch the bier of a widow’s dead son. He turns over the money tables and pushes the traders out of the temple courts. He writes in the sand refusing to express a word of condemnation to an adulterous woman. From danger of drowning he lifts Peter to safety. He takes the hand of the daughter of Jairus. He lifts his hands in prayer. He receives the two loaves and fishes of a little boy. He takes basin and towel to wash the disciple’s feet; then he takes the bread and breaks it to give as a token of his body about to be broken for their sake. Every one of his actions is a demonstration of the love, mercy, compassion and unlimited generosity of his Father. He balances the cross on his shoulder and carries it to Calvary. He opens his hands to be pierced with nails while praying for the soldier driving them in. In the end he gives himself into the hands of his Father “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit”.
The Psalmist tells us these are the hands that brought everything into being. ‘In his hands are the deep places of the earth and mountain peaks’. ‘His hands formed the dry land’. ‘He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap’. ‘He upholds those who keep his commands’. Speaking from his experience the psalmist says of God ‘your hand will guide me and your right hand will hold me fast’, ‘You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’. When he looks at the world, at life around him, or at himself he sees God as a ‘Hands on’ person involved in every aspect. We speak of people ‘touching us’ – meaning our hearts, not our bodies. That is what the psalmist knew God was doing to him.
We shake hands in greeting or agreement. We hold hands to express community, belonging and love. We give a helping hand to someone in need. We reject assistance or guidance with the rebuke “Hands off”, or “Don’t lay a finger on it”. We put our hands together in the act of prayer, and open our hand to receive the sacrament. We speak of someone who is reluctant to give as being ‘tight-fisted’. We use the wagging finger to warn, or the straight one to point. We join hands in co-operation and matrimony. Our hands are a means of communicating our feelings without words.
The story is told of a statue of Jesus erected outside a church with the hands outstretched in a welcome position. During the war a nearby explosion blew the hands off. The congregation discussed how they could be replaced when someone suggested leaving the statue as it was as a permanent reminder to the members ‘Jesus has no hands but ours’. Our hands may be used to serve Jesus in many ways. Some maintain the fabric and appearance of the church, or maintain a plot of plants and vegetables for the poor. Some knit, crochet, or sew for people in need, or bake to raise funds for the church, or arrange flowers to decorate it, or make soup for the hungry. Dedicated, compassionate hands may be more effective in continuing Christ’s ministry than eloquent preachers, for Jesus said “When I was hungry you fed me, naked you clothed me…What you did for the least of these, you did for me.”