Hunger drove him. Into the midst of wolfish souls. But maybe, just maybe, amid the banter over ‘The Book’, he could fade, unnoticed, into their numbers. Prayer shawl covering his head, eyes riveted to the ground, he slipped into the clamoring of the synagogue, his deformity carefully hidden from prying eyes by the flow of his robes.
Surrounded by the customary debates, he easily lost himself. But then, wasn’t that his state? Lost? Cut off? From men. From blessing. From Blessed Be His Name Himself.
He cringed. His downcast eyes catching a glimpse of his withered hand. Removing doubt. From prying eyes. From himself. His mark every bit as visible as Cain’s, declared him unworthy. Powerless. The withering screamed his bitter truth for all to see … when he was seen at all.
Wherever he entered eyes turned away., The kindest in pity. But most in cutting disdain. Disgust banishing him, from communion, from friendship, from love, from breaking bread together, ever. Who could blame them?
But he hungered so – and Manna was present today. Even a crumb would dull, for a time, this gnawing hunger. A hunger he knew would consume him.
Suddenly, like a sharp blade, silence fell, cutting him to the bone.
Century after century entrance into this excruciating ordeal comes through the careful painting of Luke’s pen. For some, the tension becomes their own, ageless eyes finding themselves riveted to the drama unfolding in that ancient synagogue. To the power play at work. To the confrontation between man and his creator. Between Deity and self.
Familiarity with the passage, however, blinded me to the weaving of my own story within this drama’s framework.
We read Luke’s words with western eyes. With a western mindset. And in the western framework, we fly right by the familiar confrontive miracle, missing the message … spoken to our own heart. It’s our own story. Our two-fold story.
That the man is even present at the religious gathering itself raises so many issues, lays bare so many truths. It’s impossible to exclude ourselves from the eternal moment.
The silence, when first it fell, was deafening. A cold silence, not a holy hush. Hostility palpitated within the chambers of what should be holy ground.
Hostility, toward the man devoid of goodness, devoid of blessing, visibly bearing God’s curse. His hand told the undeniable tale. And he wasn’t welcome here. Wasn’t welcome in their homes, nor at their tables. Eyes averted their gaze, heads turned in disgust whenever he dared to abate his hunger in their presence.
Uncleanness, powerless uncleanness, lay in that withered right hand. The mouth hand. Uncleanness, laying bear a starving soul, for want of being fed. And he hungered so. Hungered for the Manna in their midst. Defying convention, or correctness, he came, hiding among them. His soul’s condition couldn’t hide. And the cold stares turned icy, devoid of compassion, resenting the hope held forth by One walking, uninvited, in to their rightness. Icy stares … burning with hatred. Hatred toward the man. Hatred toward the Hope.
And Hope’s own gaze didn’t waver, looking them in the eye, one by one. Hope sought the minutest spark of compassion for the hungering one in their midst. Searched for understanding. But each wrath-filled soul chose to ‘hold fast’ his own power, denying Hope the power belonging to Him alone.
But when Hope called, the outcast, trembling, rose from the place of hiding that hadn’t hidden him at all. The man with the withered right hand looked into Hope’s eyes. Knew these eyes saw his utter destitution, and met Compassion. For the first time in his life.
Or were the outcast’s own eyes too firmly fixed on the ground, fearful, awaiting a reckoning he knew he deserved. He heard it in the familiar silence, a silence amplifying the curse he’d borne … from the womb.
Four words shattered the silence.
“Stretch forth your hand.”
“Erase the curse? Surely not!”
So screamed every frothing heart present, anger eating up their souls.
Erase the curse? Surely not!
One famished soul dared whisper, slowly raising his eyes. Compassion, at that moment, captured his.
Embracing Hope, tentatively at first, the powerless, unclean outcast stretched forth his right hand, his eating hand, reaching toward restoration, and feasted on Manna.
In our western culture, we read Luke 6:6-16 seeing only the deformity, little different from any other handicap. But within eastern cultures, significant meaning lies buried in Luke’s addition of a singular word … right. Its message isn’t the external, all our western eyes see. The real message is internal, eternal … a divine message stripping bare the condition of every man’s soul.
Eastern cultures cut off the right hand of a thief. Why? To western thought, it appears but a horridly inconvenience. But in an eastern utensil-less society the ‘cutting off’ pronounces a singular sentence …death. In eastern society you ate only with the right hand, the left hand reserved for the meaner tasks of bodily hygiene. Eating with the left hand was impermissible, unlawful, unclean, both symbolically, and actually.
Yet here in the midst of the congregation, a man with a withered right hand unspeakably sat. Bearing outward manifestation of his inward condition. My inward condition. Before Jesus spoke restoration to my powerless, unclean, sentenced soul.
Right hand … denoting so much we miss. But that ancient audience didn’t miss it. The hand of power. The man, standing in Manna’s presence, declaring a truth clay worked so hard to disguise. Clay’s power, clay’s righteousness, stands withered, utterly absent, without hope … in the presence of Truth.
Every man present in the synagogue that day stood before this starkly unwelcome mirror. Each man present, forced to confront this truth. Yet they resented, despised, hated Hope’s offering.
Jesus knew it. And into their cold, compassionless, religiosity Grace spoke, revealing their own destitution. Revealing hearts closed to the truth of their own helpless state. Closed by their own fierce choosing.
An amazing passage. I am present, in its midst. One moment wearing the icy stare. The next moment, bearing the withered hand. And Grace stands in my presence, offering Himself as restoration for my soulish state.
© DeAnna Brooks
28 August 2006
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