Your hands are my hands

“YOUR HANDS ARE MY HANDS” Pentecost 7   (Ord 15)    2021   Year B Mk 6:14-29

The gospel reading for this day is set in the context of the sending out the disciples and the feeding of the five thousand; and Mark intentionally inserts the death of John the Baptist right in the middle to reinforce that the way of the disciple is also an invitation to the way of the cross.

During the Korean War a little village came under heavy artillery fire.   In the village stood a Catholic church.

Outside the church, stood a marble statue of Christ. When the artillery fire ceased and the smoke of battle had cleared away, they saw the wreckage of the statue. It had been blown off its pedestal and lay shattered on the ground.

A group of American soldiers helped the priest collect the pieces and they carefully rebuilt the statue.

They managed to recover all the pieces except the hands. Undaunted, the soldiers offered to arrange for someone back in America to make new hands for it.

But the priest refused. ‘I have a better idea’, he said. ‘Let’s leave it without hands. And we’ will carve on the pedestal the words:  “Your hands are my hands”.

In that way passers-by will come to understand that Christ  has no hands but our hands with which to raise up the fallen; no feet but our feet to seek out the lost; no ears but our ears to listen to the lonely; no tongue but our tongue to speak words of comfort to those who mourn.’

This story illustrates the message of today’s Gospel, where Mark reminds his readers that the followers of Jesus share in his ministry, share in his authority, and sometimes they even get to share in the suffering of his cross.

Like us, the disciples were ordinary people. Like us they were flawed and imperfect. Yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to share his work with them in preparation for the day when he would entrust his entire mission to them.

There are many in authority who have a fear of delegating or of involving other people in their work or “trusting” others to do as good a job as they.

After all, we all know the old saying, “If you want a job done well, then do it yourself.”

History has shown us that the clergy have always been distrustful of the laity and their ability to carry out the work of Jesus. And of course the result of this is that there are many cemeteries overflowing with indispensable priests and indispensable bishops.

Only in recent years has the Anglican Church begun to speak of the ministry of the baptised as mutual ministry, collaborative ministry, shared ministry. 

In days gone by many Christians (mostly women) have been disempowered by the hierarchy of the church. Many felt that they couldn’t be trusted and that they had nothing to contribute to the ministry of Christ.

However there are also many Christians who are happy to sit in a pew each Sunday comfortably believing that somehow – somehow, they have fulfilled their baptism.

Still there are many others who don’t really want to be involved.  It’s far easier to leave it to the qualified clergy.

The practice of leaving it to the professionals is very common. Thus, all healing is left to doctors and nurses.

All teaching is left to teachers. All counselling is left to social workers. Working for the needy is left to the Government or Anglicare or some other caring agency.

But the non-specialist, the ordinary person has a lot to contribute and often has a greater freedom to work.

The sick have as much need of companionship as of medicine.

The elderly need someone to spend time with them. The young need someone to show an interest in them.

This is work we all can do, and it’s hardly rocket science. We are not called to be another John the Baptist.  It does not call for any great expertise or any great suffering – it only calls for a caring, compassionate heart.   

All of us are ordained in our baptism into the “priesthood of all believers”. In this we are commissioned to love and care for God’s world and for one another. However few of us are going to be called to put our heads on a block or a platter.

Jesus doesn’t call us to fanatical martyrdom rather he calls us to live out our humanity, to live as decent and caring people who demonstrate the love of God to others, mostly in “very ordinary” and very practical ways.

For Christ now has no hands but your hands with which to raise up the fallen; no feet but your feet to seek out the lost; no ears but your ears to listen to the lonely; no tongue but your tongue to speak words of comfort to those who mourn.’

These are lovely words, powerful words, but they become empty rhetoric and meaningless words if the “laity”, if the “ordinary people of God” fail to carry them out. AMEN.

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