FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
Today’s gospel is not about the Pharisees. It is about us. However, we imagine Jesus’ relationship to the Pharisees during his earthly ministry, his words of criticism in today’s gospel have been recorded not to criticize them but to warn us—to direct us to avoid those things which would prove shameful in God’s sight. So how might we discover what Jesus is warning us about?
I would like to focus on one line, actually one word, the word “finger“. In making his criticism Jesus says that people are carrying heavy burdens, and you are unwilling to lift even a finger to move them. What is the impact of the expression: “unwilling to lift a finger?” It is a small movement. In fact, except for the blink of the eye, it is the smallest move that a body can make. Yet, Jesus is saying how shameful would it be if people around us are burdened and we are unwilling to lift a finger to help them, unwilling to make even the smallest move in their favor.
Now of course, one could pose a response to Jesus’ criticism. If moving a finger is such a small, tiny effort then what difference does it make if you move it or not? If we are asked simply to move a finger, then what difference can either doing it or not doing it make? Here is where the word finger can help us.
Finger is a translation of a Greek word, δάκτυλος. It is a rare word in the New Testament. It only occurs one time in Matthew’s gospel in the passage that we just heard about lifting your finger to help another. But it occurs also in Luke and in John. I am suggesting that if we look where the word finger occurs in these two gospels, it will throw light on Jesus’ meaning in today’s gospel. It will show us how lifting a finger can help others and help ourselves as well.
In the Gospel of Luke, δάκτυλος occurs when Jesus is addressing the crowd. He says, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Here the word, finger, is not our finger or even Jesus’ finger, it is God’s finger. Reading this passage about God’s finger together with the passage in today’s gospel about our finger reminds us that He is capable and willing of acting through our actions. If this is the case, then even a small action on our part could be significant. If when we move our finger, God is moving God’s finger through us, then we can make a real difference in the life of people, even if our movement is rather small.
The word, δάκτυλος, also occurs in John’s gospel. Jesus uses it as he addresses Thomas. He says, “Take your finger and place it in the nail mark of my hands and do not doubt but believe.” Here the word, finger, is a means of faith. When we connect this use to today’s gospel, it seems to be saying that if we move our finger to help another, we will be drawing closer to Christ because in touching another we are touching Christ, himself.
Even though moving a finger is a very small action, it should not be one that is discounted. When we act in even a small way for another person, God can act through us. Therefore, our action can have tremendous consequences. It can also deepen and increase our own faith.
It might seem like a very small action to pick up the phone and contact someone who has just lost a loved one in death. It is only a few minutes of your time. Yet if God is with you in that call, your action of lifting a finger can lift the grief of someone who is sorrowing. It might seem like a small decision to begin counseling when your marriage is in danger. It may seem too small to make a difference. But if God’s grace is with you, then that small effort could turn the situation around and save your family. It might seem insignificant when you stop and have a thirty-second conversation with the kid in school whom everyone else mocks. Yet, you might discover that by choosing that small action you find yourself closer to Christ and more clearly his disciple.
Lifting a finger is a small action that could easily be discounted. In the gospel today, Jesus warns us not to dismiss it. For when we lift a finger to help another person it is possible that God is moving God’s own finger through us. If so, then our actions will help build the Kingdom of God. And that small action may not only help someone else. When we use our finger to touch the pain of another person, we should have no doubt that our own faith will be deepened, because we will be touching the wounds of the risen Christ.
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