I’m in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh on a very specific quest. I want to find renderings of kindness. And the best way to find that is to look toward hands.
Recently, I’ve been reading through the gospels to find examples of the kindness of Jesus. It’s an interesting lens to look through. We see Jesus so many kind gestures: healing, going to the houses of outsiders, paying attention to the overlooked, receiving children.
On occasion, the gospel writers tell us that Jesus felt compassion on the crowds (Mk. 6:34). I began to wonder what the difference is between compassion and kindness.
Then I noticed his hands.
Many of Jesus’s healings involved his touching them. The gospels are filled with examples. Here are a few:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Moved by compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:41)
Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. (Mark 1: 30-31)
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:41)
The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)
When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. (Luke 13:12-13)
As I wander through the museum, I find this odd painting. From a distance, it appeared that Jesus was finally giving a Pharisee the swift poke in the eye I think they deserved. But no, Gioachino Assereto (a Caravaggio wannabe) is depicting the process of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9.
Like the other examples above, Jesus didn’t need to touch the man. At other times, he speaks healing, even at a long distance. But here, he chooses to administer his restoration through a physical connection – making an impromptu salve of dirt and spittle and applying it to his eyes.
Kindness, then, is compassion applied. In a day when outrage on social media substitutes for actual action, Jesus shows that kindness involves reaching out. Sometimes, physically.
When I come upon this exquisite sculpture of the Prodigal Son by George Grey Barnard, I am struck by the power of its embrace. Jesus tells us that the father, “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
Jesus is how the Father embraces us – his love in action. The ineffable God put literal hands to love us through his incarnate Son.
May he use our hands to touch the lives and hearts of people, too.
Jesus, make us kind like you. Forgive our lukewarm hearts, our slowness to act. Use us to bring practical acts of your love to the people in our lives.
Reader: When have you most clearly felt the hand of God in your life? Tell me about it.