Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand…Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. (Matt. 12: 9-14)
Fr. Lev Gillet, in his book called, “In thy presence”, writes about the everyday gestures of Christ and their possible meaning for those seeking to become Christ-like – His getting up, His ability to read, His need to wash, eat and drink, His need to leave His home to do His work in the streets and in the fields, His need for rest. Fr. Lev’s meditation does not go to the place where we often go when we think about imitating or being like Christ, believing that we could imagine what Christ would do if we were Him. You know, that old WWJD question. He sees this as a fruitless question, as a question that looks for a difference between us and Christ by focusing on His human abilities rather than examining the way His fully divine nature interacts with His fully human abilities. “What Would Jesus Do” is a question that cannot possibly be answered outside of our imaginations – a highly unreliable source of truth. It is a question that seeks a black and white or right and wrong answer, leaving us trapped in our minds going through a discursive process of thinking rather than staying present and embodied in the moment, and in the hope of God’s presence with us. It also leaves us frozen in paralysis because no one has time to question and think through every gesture or every action. This is especially true in a classroom setting that demands a quick flow of response to many needs and situations.
Instead, Fr. Lev suggests an alternative question as one that is much more fruitful and inspirational. Rather than imagining what Christ would do, ask yourself in what spirit he would ALWAYS be performing the gestures that you are actually making or that you will need to make. In other words, all of our actions have the potential to bring us into union with Christ if we are conscious of how they can and should be qualified by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, long-suffering and self-control. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks and the hands act.
It is inspiring to think about the many ways Christ used his ‘outstretched hands’. We are sometimes so focused on His words as recorded in the gospels, that we forget every aspect of His body was in union with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and vital to sharing the good news. He immediately stretched forth His hand to Peter in the storm, He took the daughter of Jairus by the hand and raised her up, He took a blind man by the hand and touched his eyes, He healed a deaf man by placing his hands into his ears and touching his tongue, He blessed his disciples with his hands, he held young children in his arms.
I don’t get the impression that Christ planned these events or spent a great deal of time thinking or making agonizing decisions about what to do, but His hands were always ready to respond in a way that brought healing, strength, deliverance, peace. He was so in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit that His hands couldn’t help but be miraculous, couldn’t help sharing eternal life with all He encountered in ways that couldn’t possibly be misunderstood. Even though His gestures were often enhanced with words, they didn’t need words to communicate truth. In fact, I think that often the words were more for the observers and mockers than for the ones being healed or saved. What could words add to the true gift of life, sight, sound? How could those who were healed or delivered not know that Christ was the Way, the Truth and the Life?
When I think about how important it is to qualify my teaching gestures with the Holy Spirit, I become aware of how often my hands act in unqualified or indifferent or irreverent ways. My hands are often out of control and graceless even when outstretched, because I forget to stretch my hands out to Christ first. When my outstretched hands are not conditioned or made whole by the Holy Spirit, I am actually preventing Christ from reaching out to the person I am gesturing towards, my hands become useless to God, withered. And the opposite is also true. Stretching out my hands to God is also lifting up my heart for healing. This is the stance of true prayer – hands lifted up to God bringing our whole bodies in submission to Him. As God heals my heart, my withered hands become healed. The gestures of my ‘outstretched hands’ can then share the life of Christ.