Summary: Hands open may be a handshake or a salute, signalling friendship or respect. Just as those gestures affirmed Saul, we also must approach others by leading them to safety and by affirming their potential.
f I come toward you with an open hand, what does that mean? If I approach you from across the room with either one hand or both hands open, how would you interpret that?
Well, of course, it would mean different things for different kinds of open hands. There is more than one way to be openhanded. If I come with my open hand palm up, it suggests I want something from you; put something in my open hand. It used to be a dime for a cup of coffee; now it is four dollars for a Starbucks latte. But if you see my hand open, palm up, you think I want something.
Or if my hand is open and is raised above my shoulder, that means I want your attention. I am trying to get you to notice me, because I have something to say that you need to hear. Maybe we should instruct all those who read the Bible in worship to put one hand up when they start, because we really must pay better attention to the reading of Scripture!
Or, again, your interpretation would be quite different if my hand, still open, was stretched out at arm’s length in front of me. If my open hand is in your face, you know it means “Stop”. Stop right where you are, stop what you are doing, you are on the wrong track, stop!
All of these things are suggested by open hands. But there are at least two more options, two more ways my open hand could be read. I might open my hand, turn it sideways, and aim toward your hand. That would be a sign that I want to shake hands with you; I want my open hand to meet your open hand and link with me. It would be a gesture of greeting. Did you know that the custom of shaking hands goes back hundreds of years, and that it may have originated as a way for two people to demonstrate that their hands contained no weapons? An open hand, extended for a handshake, is a sign that as we greet, there is no hostility and there are no weapons that might inflict injury.
That’s one option. And the other option is the salute. I could raise my open hand to my eyebrow and hold it there for a few seconds. How would you read that? I am not a member of the armed forces, but that’s where the salute comes from; the salute is a gesture of respect. If I salute you, I acknowledge that I respect you, you are a person of integrity, you are somebody. An open hand as a salute means, “I trust you and what you stand for.”
Open hands, the handshake and the salute, are metaphors for the way you and I need to encounter the world around us. We need to approach this world with open hands – not to beg, not to demand attention, not even to stop them from doing something wrong. All those things are important; but our best approaches to the world are the handshake and the salute.
What I mean is pictured for us in the story of the man once called Saul; open hands played a large role in his story.
Saul first appears in the New Testament as an enemy of the Gospel. He shows up at the stoning of Stephen and cheers the crowd on. He gets warrants from the Temple authorities to go down to Damascus and root out this pestilence of believers in Jesus. He is the epitome of enmity.
And yet Jesus encounters Saul, Jesus challenges him, and almost instantly, Saul the enemy becomes Saul the disabled, Saul the confused, Saul in crisis. He is blinded, he is weak, he is unable to do much of anything. Saul needs help. So what happened next?
“So [those who were traveling with him] led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.” They led him by the hand. Open hands took the hand of this dazzled, disoriented rabbi, and led him to safe haven in Damascus.
Friends, all around us there are confused and lonely and unhappy people. They may not look that way. They may look perfectly normal. They may have jobs and families and likes and dislikes just as all of us do. But outside of fellowship with God, they are not going to find genuine happiness. Outside of faith in Christ, they are not going to discover authentic fulfillment. They need somebody to lead them by the hand and take them to a safe haven. They need our open hands, extended in friendship, to link with their hands and lead them to safety.
Now here’s the problem. Here’s the issue. Many of us have defined anybody who is not like us as “The Enemy”. Just as Saul saw Christians as his enemy, and guess what, they saw him as their enemy too, a whole lot of modern Christians have enemies. There are folks who make us uncomfortable, there are people whose lifestyles are repugnant, there are groups that we think are out to undermine us, and what do we want to do? Either we want to stay away and have nothing to do with them; or we want to construct elaborate arguments to prove them wrong and beat them down. Flight or fight, those seem to be our choices. But that’s not what the world needs. The world does not need for Christians either to avoid or to do battle. The world needs Christians with open hands, followers of Jesus who will extend their hands in friendship, hand to hand and heart to heart, to lead others to a place of peace and safety.