Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:8-9)
At the end of our arms we each have a set of hands. What would we do without them? Our hands are essential to much of what we accomplish each day. Just this morning alone, your hands dressed you, made your breakfast, fed you, brushed your teeth, combed your hair, and drove you to church. Your hands opened the church door, greeted someone, hugged another, held the bulletin open and folded together in prayer to God... and it’s only 11 o’clock in the morning!
Our hands are remarkable tools. And when you think about it, the way they work is quite simple. Our hands either open or they close. Look at your hands now and see what position they happen to be in right now – are they opened or closed? Generally, the default position for our hands is closed.
When you came out of the womb as a newborn your hands would have been closed – folded to protect your little fingers as you were born. And from early on you were a clasper - if someone were to place their finger in the palm of your hand, your little fingers would automatically close around it and hang on. . . a natural response. As weeks went by, you began to realize that the set of hands in front of you are yours...that you had some control over them. So, you start to use them to grab hold of things – a rattle, a plush toy, a baby bottle. And eventually you learned to say, “Mine!” and grab hold of things and hang on tight.
As a youngster, you hung tightly to your bike handlebars as you rode to school. In high school, you found the hand of girlfriend or boyfriend to hold as you walked along together. When you graduated from college you clutched a diploma and raised it high in celebration! Your ticket to the job market. In the working world, you grabbed hold of the bottom rung of the corporate ladder and hung on tight... then slowly climbed up it one rung at a time. When you retired you took hold of your golf clubs or garden tools or the wheel of your Winnebago and enjoyed a different sort of life. Finally, as a senior you take hold of a walker with both hands whenever you get up and go anywhere.
We are by nature “clutchers” because that’s what our hands do. They reach out and grab hold of things and they hold on. Our hands have helped us serve our wants and needs well. But that’s only one thing that hands can do... hands were made to do so much more. Just consider the hands of God... God’s hands are used to create. In fact, each of us has been fashioned by the hands of God! Ever consider that? You were hand made by God! In God’s image! And after God created us, God opened his hands and said, “Here... all this is for you” – and the world was presented to us as a gift to care for and enjoy.
And throughout history God is continuously opening his hands to us:
- To provide manna to the hungry and water to the thirsty in the wilderness
- To provide laws and commandments to guide us
- To provide a Promised Land as a home
- To provide his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our savior.
God’s hands are proof that our hands can do more than serve ourselves, they can be opened to serve and share with others. Our God opens his hands to lavish blessing upon us even though we don’t always deserve such blessing! So, open hands are an outward sign of the inner reality of God’s generosity. And these hands of ours, so accustomed to doing just one thing are capable of doing much more. Sure, they can grab on and hold but they can also reach out and touch, console, caress and care for others. Most of all our hands can give ...if they are transformed by the love of God.
Isn’t that what happened to Zacchaeus? According to the song he was a “wee little man,” the implication being that he was short in stature. But maybe the story suggests he’s small not just in stature but also in character... because his hands only knew how to take and not give. Perhaps he was up in a tree, not so he could see over the crowd, but to get away from the people who didn’t like being in his company. You see, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He spent his days taking money from his own people to give to the Roman government. And any extra he could squeeze out of them he kept for himself. So, he was despised as a taker.
But Jesus went right up to the tree and said, “Get down here, Zacchaeus – I’m going to your house today!” And he rushed down from there and stood face to face with Jesus. One of the most despised takers stood before one of the most beloved givers. And the people grumbled, “What’s Jesus doing going to the house of a such a sinner?” But this encounter had already transformed Zacchaeus from despised taker into a beloved giver. “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” And look at the response of Jesus to this announcement! He gives him what he was missing – a place in his own community again: “Today salvation has come to this house... for he too is a son of Abraham!” Giving is no small thing in the eye of the Lord – salvation hinges on it!
So, look at your hands once more. What kind of hands do you have? Are your hands closed – grasping and holding on for dear life; or are your hands open – caring and sharing with others. Our hands can do so much more than we first thought possible. If we let them, our hands can transform our world! If we open them and allow Jesus to work through them, we can be a blessing to so many others. So, today we have an opportunity to open our hands, all of us, and make a difference as a congregation... as God’s people.
Isn’t that what Jesus did? He opened his hands... to bless little children, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to welcome the leper and console the afflicted. And in the final act of love in his life, he opened his hands to be nailed to a cross at Golgotha where he died to set us free. And that act transformed the world forever. See what open hands can do?