Friday, May 13

Hands of Mercy, Hands of Peace

We use our hands for many things. We use our hands for building. We use our hands for making music. We use our hands to write. We use our hands to type. We can hold hands with another person. We use our hands for eating. We use our hands for cleaning. We use our hands for cooking. We use our hands when making love. We use our hands for work. In many cultures, we shake hands as a way of greeting or introduction. Hands are used for these and a billion other such things in life. Hands can be messengers. Hands can be outstretched to cry out for help. Hands can be offered to give love and show mercy to others. The ancient Jews would ritually wash their hands before a meal or before preparing an offering or sacrifice. Hands are used in phraseology as well - the phrase "the hand of the Lord" was often used in the Hebrew Bible to express the power of the divine. The phrase, "this will come in handy" means, "this is useful."

We swear oaths with their hands. Offering a hand to someone can be seen as an invitation - "here, let me give you a hand." The expression, "this is in your hands" tends to mean "this is within your power" or your ability. Not everyone has hands - there are those born without hands, or those who have lost their hands over the course of their life. These individuals find other ways of going through life, and at times they may be helped by those who use their hands to develop new technologies for new ways of living.

Photo Credit to
From a Judeo-Christian perspective, consider this selection of a few of the many different uses for hands in Scripture:
  • Hands were used for blessing one's sons or heirs (Genesis 48:14)
  • Jesus used his hand to bend down and write in the sand (John 8:1-11)
  • Hands were laid on sacrifices (Exodus 29:10)
  • Hands were laid on another person in order to send the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9)
  • Laying on hands to commission as a priest (Numbers 8:10; 1st Timothy 5:22)
  • Laying on hands to heal  (2nd Kings 4:34)
  • Lifting up hands to pray (1st Timothy 2:8)
  • Hands were used as messengers of the divine (Daniel 5:5-6)
  • "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you” (Isaiah 41:13)
  • "And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul" (Acts 19:11)
  • "So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24)
  • "So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set" (Exodus 17:11-12)
In the above selection of passages from Scripture - only a small selection out of many others - we find hands being used for healing, hands used to help, hands used to pray, hands used for sending, hands used to comfort, hands used for blessing, and so forth. Hands clearly play very important roles in our lives. Consider the image of a potter, molding clay with their hands. The potter takes special care to carefully craft each and every piece of pottery, molding, shaping, waiting. What if we took this same level of care with others? What if we used our hands as hands of mercy, and hands of justice - as instruments of both mercy and justice?

Hands can unfortunately also be used for many bad, even malicious purposes. Hands can be used to perpetuate social injustices and even many social sins, such as human trafficking, the alienation of immigrants, the slaughter of innocent lives, and the destruction - genocide, even - of entire people groups. Hands can be used to promote racism and discrimination, to deny basic human rights, to uphold inequality, to propagate the pornography industry (which includes the literal stripping of human dignity), to hurt minority groups and exclude others. Hands can be used to hold weapons, to deprive others of an education, to continue to advance environmental degradation, to poison, to injure, and many other such things.
Photo credit to Br. Francis de Sales Wagner (Path of Life blog)

But hands can also be used to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized. Hands can be used to help social causes - consider movements such as those led by Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. Hands can be used to rebel against unjust social orders. Hands can be used to band together as one people. Hands can be joined together in prayer. Hands can be used to heal. Hands can be used to create. Hands can be used for many creative purposes, but can we not also use our hands to help those who are hungry? Can we use our hands to offer drinks to those who are thirsty?

Can we use our hands to offer clothes to those who have little, or none? Could we not also offer up our hands to comfort those who are mourning? Could we not use our hands to write to those who are imprisoned? We can use our hands to build homes for those who have none. We can use our hands to offer up change to those on the streets. Can we use our hands to cook for others? Can we use our hands to clean for others? Perhaps we can use our hands to communicate with the Deaf community. We can use our hands to welcome the immigrants. We can use our hands to tend to and care for our "common home," this environment and creation surrounding us. Perhaps we can also use our hands to show love and care to other animals.

Human beings are remarkable creatures. We have the amazing capacity to use our hands for works of mercy and works of justice. We can do all of these things and more. It is important for us not only to recognize this blessing, but to act on it. In particular, let this be a reminder of the social call one may say that we each have - regardless of religious tradition, culture, ethnic background, etc. - to help each other go through life together.

What will you do with your hands as instruments of mercy and justice?

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