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Windows of Salvation – The Right Hand of God

As a baseball fan, I have always been fascinated by players who are switch hitters.  I am a right-handed batter myself, and even when I tried to swing left-handed, I just could not get over how uncomfortable and natural it felt!  Interestingly, in the ancient world, the right hand was always considered to be the dominant or natural hand, and the left hand the weaker, inferior, and even unclean hand.  Warriors would draw their swords from the left hip and swing with their right hand. The left hand, however, would be considered impure, partly because it was used to clean oneself after going to the bathroom!  Thank goodness for Charmin, right?  

Today’s Christian symbol is that of the Right Hand of God, pouring forth rays of grace.  Historically, this symbol was developed in the Late Antique and Early Medieval periods, in the 7thand 8thcenturies.  At the time, the Church was battling the heresy known as iconoclasm, and no representation or image of God was permitted.  Proponents of the heresy misunderstood the 2ndCommandment (You shall not make graven images), claiming that when people prayed with images of God or the saints, they were in fact worshipping idols.  Of course, we believe nothing of the sort, and we use images to direct ourselves to the deeper reality that they point to. 

Enter the symbol that we reflect on today.  The Right Hand of God was seen as a sort of compromise: not depicting God, per se, but certainly making a concrete symbol of his power as it is conveyed in Scripture.  The Hand was portrayed in different ways: sometimes with the fingers giving a blessing (as you might see my hand at Mass), sometimes holding a wreath of victory over sin and death, and sometimes as a full hand, as our window depicts.

In the Scriptures, the Right Hand of God appears in a few ways.  One way is seen in Psalm 8: “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and stars that you set in place, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, a son of man that you care for him?’”  The Psalm speaks in awe of the creation of God, formed by God as clay is formed in a potter’s hands – carefully, lovingly, and with such grace and purpose.

Other times, the Right Hand of God is used as a reference to God’s mighty power, fighting off the enemies of Israel.  Exodus 15 recounts the song of the Israelites after watching the Egyptian army destroyed in the Red Sea: “Your right hand, O Lord, magnificent in power, your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.” Just as ancient warriors would draw their sword and strike with their right hand, so the God of Israel strikes down the foes of Israel.

In the Gospels, Jesus as the Son of God performs each of these actions again, recreating through his works of healing, and fighting off enemies, particularly the great enemy of sin.  In Matthew 8:3, we are told that Jesus was not content to heal a leper from a safe distance, but that he intimately reached out his hand to touch the man, healing him and restoring him to his family and community.  Christ does this even today through the Sacraments, as the priest lays his hands on the heads of the faithful in Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick, and extends his hand over a penitent in the Sacrament of Penance.  God’s Right Hand is still very active today – recreating us and fighting for us!

God, we thank you for creating us, for sharing your life with us.  Help us never to be seperated from you.  You are our life – you are all we need.

Categories: Pastor's Desk

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