Sunday, 23 November 2014

Want to Hold the Hands of Christ?

Image: Elvert Barnes via Wikimedia Commons
According to a poem attributed to the sixteenth century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Tosh. Drivel. Nonsense.

First, it's nonsense to attribute this to Teresa of Avila. I've read quite widely from her many works, and have had the opportunity to meet folks who've studied her many books and letters in considerable depth. I can assure you that poem appears nowhere in any of her texts. And it would be astounding if it did, really. Teresa was one of the leading figures in the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation which laid huge emphasis on the doctrine of transubstantiation: the teaching that the bread and wine at the Eucharist are transformed physically and quite literally into the body and blood of Jesus. Does it sound at all likely that someone with those views would begin a poem with the words: "Christ has no body now on earth but yours..."?

But even if Teresa had written it (can I just mention again: she didn't!) it would still be tosh, drivel, and nonsense. Because Jesus said so.

In many churches across the world today the Gospel reading came from Matthew 25.31-46. In this striking and apocalyptic parable Jesus imagines the world being judged, separated into sheep and goats, based on their love for the poor, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick. Surprisingly he passes up the chance to congratulate those who most loved the needy. There is no speech that begins: "Thanks for caring for the outcasts, guys! You really revealed my love when you did that. Boy, you folks were just Jesus to them! I had no body, no hands, no feet on earth - but you gave me hands and feet, you made my love real. You rock!"

No, his message is astoundingly different. "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me ... as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

My dear friends, we need to get over ourselves and deflate our egos a little. We're not Jesus in the world, dispensing divine love to the world. The homeless, the prisoners, the sick, the lonely, the refugees, the prisoners - these are Jesus in the world. And you and I have an opportunity to spend time with him, to love him, to care for him. Not to be his hands, but to hold his hands. Interested?


  1. This is really helpful Chris, as I've long been sucked in to the "we're his hands and feet" routine, whilst also knowing it's the "helping the stranger etc." routine that's important too. My dodgy memory of the Rule is that it advises us to seen Christ in the stranger, but does not also say one should be 'as Christ' somewhere too? *wanders off to find copy and re-read*

    Thanks for the blogging. Really helpful.

  2. Chapter 73 of the Rule says: "Let all guests be received like Christ, for he is going to say, 'I came as a guest and you received me' ... Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who is indeed received in their persons." At the same time the Abbot (according to chapter 2) "is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery." So when the Abbot greets the guest, the guest sees Christ in the Abbot and the Abbot sees Christ in the guest. Now extend that to all the monks, then to all Christians, and finally just to all people - well, and you're really on to something!