The Hands

Once in a small village in Germany, during the 15th century, there were two brothers. Both loved to draw and paint and when both were older they wanted to study to become artists. The brothers knew their parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send them to art school so they reached an arrangement. The younger brother agreed to work while the older brother went to school. Then when the older brother graduated an artist, he would work while the younger brother went to school. So it was that Albrecht Dürer went to art school for 5 years while his younger brother worked tirelessly in the mines to pay for his education.

When Albrecht returned home from his studies, everyone in the house greeted him warmly and was excited to see what great art he would produce. But he said, “No, I have made a promise. I will work until my brother has gone through school.” Just then, Albrecht noticed his brother crying.

“What’s wrong?”, he asked, “Are you not excited to begin your studies?”

Albrecht’s younger brother held up his hands. They were swollen and crooked from years of hard manual labor. “Brother,” he said, “I have worked my fingers to the bone so you could study art under the great masters. So much so that my hands are bent and arthritic. They can no longer hold a paint brush or a pencil without shaking. You will have to make great art for the both us.”

Albrecht Dürer would certainly go on to make great art, but the piece he is perhaps the most famous for is a drawing he did of his brother’s hands: swollen and bent, held palm to palm in a posture of worship. He titled it “hands” but to the world, they are known as “the praying hands.”

There’s an old Irish blessing that says, “May you bear the wounds of love…” In the case of Albrecht Dürer’s brother, those wounds were physical… literal marks of self-sacrificial love. What follower of Jesus can hear this story and not think of Jesus’ own scarred hands? True love is an act of self-sacrifice. In ways great and small, we deny our own desires and ambitions to make room for the desires and ambitions of those we love. To be a disciple is to walk in the way of self-sacrificial love after the example of Christ who emptied himself and took on the very nature of a servant. When we do this, we bear upon our selves the wounds of love and discover the blessing and healing that does from being marked by grace.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Nathan’s Parable


After King David had slept with Uriah the Hittite’s wife, Bathsheba, and impregnated her, he arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle so that he could take Bathsheba as his own. This angered God greatly. So He sent the prophet Nathan to confront the King.

Nathan feared for his life. What if the King decided to kill Nathan right then and there to keep the rumor of his sin from spreading? It was not uncommon for powerful men to kill those that brought them terrible news. Still, God had sent Nathan to rebuke King David and he resolved to be faithful to his call. Nathan devised a creative way to confront the King. While David was sitting on his throne, judging the people and arbitrating their disputes, Nathan came forward and brought him a case:

“O King, in one of your towns lives two men. One of those men is quite wealthy and the other is vey poor. The wealthy was blessed with hundreds of sheep and cattle but the poor man had nothing but a little lamb he bought at the market place. The poor man loved this lamb. It grew up in his house alongside his children. He fed it with food and drink from his very own table. Often times the little lamb even slept in his arms.

O King, one day a traveler came to this town and, as it is custom, the rich man invited him in and offered him a meal. Only, the rich man refused to slaughter any of his own sheep for the meal. Instead, he took the little lamb belonging to the poor man, without his knowledge or consent, and slaughtered it to feed to traveler.”

King David was enraged when he heard this. 

“As surely as the LORD lives, this man must die! Bring him to me and he will be forced to pay for that lamb four times over for doing such a cruel and merciless thing!”

Then Nathan stood up straight and his eyes flashed as with the fire of God. He pointed at King David and said, “You are the man!” 

Nathan then told the shocked King how he had offended God and he laid out the severe consequences that would result. Rather than getting angry or defensive, David simply bowed his head and said, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

It is a difficult thing to speak the truth to power. So difficult that many stomach injustice rather than standing up for what is right. This story from the Hebrew Bible demonstrates the profound effect a little bravery can have. Nathan used the power of story to tug at the heart of his King so that he could see the error of his ways. Jesus, too used story to show the powerful their folly. He also challenged them directly. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus have a responsibility to stand up to the powerful when they wield it to hurt others. Sometimes this means being straight forward. Other times it may take a more creative approach. Through art, we can hold a mirror up to the face of the powerful and let them see just who they are and what they are doing. As Hamlet says: “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…