Human Hands – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

The first time I saw it – and really looked at it – tears of sorrow welled in my eyes. I had been running on a trail through Maudslay State Park near Emery House. A massive, ancient tree with a sprawling network of gnarled roots and a soaring canopy greeted my gaze in a silent embrace. Almost every inch of its bark was covered in deep, jagged scars where names, dates, profane words, and crude drawings had been gouged. Over this surface the garish colors of spray-painted graffiti formed another layer of human commentary on this mute, living canvas. In what might have been a plot of inviting shade beneath its branches stretched a graveyard of empty beer cans, cigarette butts, and other garbage. I sighed deeply, and I knew that in this desecrated parody of a tree I beheld an icon of Christ crucified.

“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” In a manner of speaking, God became public property in the person of Jesus. Of course, God belongs to no one in the sense of ownership. But if we consider God’s desire to become radically accessible and available to all, as we see that desire made manifest in the life of Jesus, the image works. Land held in public trust for the good and access of many, such as a state or national park, is subject to the wise and careful maintenance of those who cherish it, just as it is equally vulnerable to the negligence or abuse of those who treat it as an endlessly available commodity. Just as God was entrusted into human hands in the Incarnation, hands that carefully, lovingly swaddled, fed, caressed and held him, so also the Son of Man is betrayed into human hands that will slap, bind, torture, and nail him to a cross. Read More