‘Stretch out your hand’
This is now an unfamiliar thing – the common courtesy of a handshake as that universal greeting. It takes many forms: from the classic ‘formal grasp’ position to the ‘matey clench’ technique, and secret coded versions invented and perfected on the playground. At its heart, the handshake (or the Covid-proofed fist pumps and elbow bumps) is a symbol of connection: two parties formerly separated have come together in a mutually visual and tangible expression of acceptance of one with the other.
It is (or was) so normal that when we read about examples of this in the Bible, they might at first be overlooked. Glossed on by as the reader anticipates some miracle or sign as the main event of a chapter. But pause for a moment, and see who Jesus stretched out his hands to in Mark 1 v 41 ‘moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said “I will; be clean”’. I wonder when was the last time this leper had someone stretch out their hand to him? It’s no speculation to think it might well have been many years, such was the stigma associated with that disease.
As we read the gospels, we could be forgiven for getting used to the Lord reaching out to others, many and varied as they were. These events become frequent as the writers evidence His claims to deity with accounts of divine power and intervention in people’s lives, such was His compassion towards those in need.
The purpose of the gospel writers is not only to tell us who Jesus was (and is), but also to invite a response from their readers (which includes you, by the way). One man Mark tells us of in chapter 3 vs 1-6. He is a man with a withered hand, and Jesus invites him to “stretch out your hand” in verse 5. He promptly does so, ‘and his hand was restored’. The miracle is something in itself, but don’t miss that there is a purpose in the selection of this (as with many others) particular miracle – Mark is telling us that this man grasped physically something that those around him could not grasp spiritually – that Jesus Christ was both Son of God and Son of Man (something that Mark makes clear within only the first two chapters).
The moment of mutual connection between two people who shake hands is a meeting of minds and hearts, and the gospel is no different. God in Christ, as it were, stretches and holds out his hand to us, waiting for us to respond and stretch out our own hand to meet with His. What did it take for that man to stretch out his hand? It took faith. A step of faith that Jesus had the power to heal him. It takes faith on our part to believe (with good reason) that Jesus was (and is) who the Bible tells us he was (and is). He is the Man who died that we might live, if we too will ‘stretch out our hand’ to His.
Jon Bustard, Young Christians’ Camp Leader