The hands of God
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Wednesday, March 3rd: Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45; Jeremiah 30:12-22; and John 12:36-43. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I think today’s Gospel holds one of the saddest statements in the New Testament. Jesus had come into the world to do something quite radical: prove that God loves unconditionally and that people are worth that love. His was a unique religious authority, and rather exceptionally, Jesus sought the privilege of His uniqueness in service to others.
I remember attending a clergy retreat many years ago. I know that I had read the book of Isaiah several times over the years, which meant that I had read this particular passage several times, but this passage never stopped me in my steps. Our retreat was led by a nun who was stopped in her steps. She was impressed, moved and motivated by Isaiah 49:16. In this passage, God reveals to the prophet: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
The book of Isaiah begins these words: “The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw …” In the tradition of this prophet, revelation was conveyed by visions. In the passage above, Isaiah may have seen the hands of God, and on the proverbial hands of God are the names of His people. We are each and all the “you” of 49:16.
The reference offered by this vision was to the practice of a slave-owner branding his name onto the hand of a slave that he owned. To Isaiah, God discloses that He has branded our names onto His hands revealing that, and remember this is sacred text not Randy Calvo, God belongs to us. This blasphemous sounding statement is inspired revelation.
The retreat leader did not find this passage at all blasphemous, but rather inspiring. The God who is so devoted to His people that He would reveal it in the imagery of a branded slave inspired her to loving service because of God’s loving service.
Jesus lives the revealed truth of Isaiah 49:16. The nail prints in His hands repeat the vision of 49:16. And as we have discussed, the resurrected Jesus still has those nail prints in His glorified body for all of eternity. They are there forever to remind Jesus of His full devotion to loving service.
This is what Jesus lived His entire life. And yet, in today’s Gospel passage we read: “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” Jesus needed to remove Himself from the world, to hide from the world, a world that wanted to kill Him. Jesus needed to prepare His followers for what lay ahead. He didn’t hide out of fear, but as a tactical retreat to better prepare His followers for the nail prints in His hands.
Jesus came into the world to serve lovingly, and the world chased Him away. The world continues to chase Jesus away. We choose not to be bothered by His example of radical loving service. We go about our business seldom thinking about Jesus. Others corrupt Jesus’ message by somehow imagining that this loving Saviour prefers violence rather than gospel. And still more people turn away from Jesus. We still force Jesus to depart and hide from us.
The privilege of Lent is to remember. It is to keep Jesus close. It is to welcome His example and to be inspired by it. Jesus deserves at least this.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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