24 July 2007 Tuesday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 14, 21 – 15,1 and Matthew 12, 46-50 Stretching one’s hands
All the readings today mentioned the phrase, “stretch out his hand” and it produced a certain result. When Moses stretched out his hand, the Red Sea parted and Israel was able to walk on dry land. The result thus was new life for the Israelites. When Jesus stretched out his hand to illustrate that whoever ‘does the will of the Father’ becomes [father], ‘mother, brother or sister to me,’ the result was membership in the family of God. There is another that comes to my mind: Peter. Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21, 18). Common interpretation looks at this as a foretaste of Peter’s crucifixion. But let me see: when Peter stretched out his hand, he lived his promised of faithful discipleship.
The word ‘stretch’ means to make bigger, to elongate, to widen, to extend, to enlarge, to broaden so that whatever is stretched reaches its maximum capacity, as a rubber band attains its limits. In terms of our body, we need to be stretched. Muscles and connective tissues shorten over time; they weaken and become stiff; and then they lose their flexibility. When we stretch, we are conditioning our body to hurdle much difficult tasks; that is why athletes stretch before practice and before the game itself. When we are stretched, we experience a pulling sensation; often it is painful and uncomfortable; and stretching is done repeatedly pushing one’s limit further but gradually.
In the same way, we do experience being stretched. Studies are stretching exercises. We push our limits further but gradually. Studies entail discipline and pain. But it widens our horizons. It extends our knowledge. It broadens our minds. It makes us think bigger and brighter. It pushes our minds to its maximum capacity. When Moses stretched out his hand, he was looking at the wide Red Sea that seems impossible to traverse. There are many Red Seas in our lives that looked difficult to cross or navigate. It may be the bar or board exams; or a difficult subject as math or physics; or a family or financial crisis. When we stretch our minds, and widen our horizons, we often discover a solution. The ‘Red Sea’ after all is navigable!
In our affiliations, organizations, companies, departments, or interest groups, we get to meet somebody different from us. Their personalities are strong and intimidating. Their ways are quite unique and unusual. Their opinions oppose ours. Their manner of dressing tests our conventions. And they challenge us to widen our networks so that people who are distinct, eccentric, peculiar, and weird can enter our world. Our personal circle is thus stretched to include them. When Jesus stretched his hand to include non-relatives into his family, he welcomed all including the strange. Thus, everybody finds a place in the heart of Christ.
Finally, all our commitments require the greatest stretch. It involves the whole of our being. It demands our very lives. In one of our healing concerts, we encountered a couple named Bryan and Julie, whose 3-month old baby, Timothy, was very sick. Timothy’s brain did not fully develop. When Bryan was telling his story, I felt stretched and ripped apart. Of course, nothing beats what Bryan and Julie are undergoing; or even Timothy. In our lives, we are asked to stretch out our hands even when we do not like it.
For what? For love. For friendship. For family. For God. In Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner (2003), the main character, Amir, tells his story in the midst of war in Afghanistan. He had a bestfriend, Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. In that book, Hassan suffers and is betrayed by him. But Hassan remained faithful to Amir. He said to Amir: ‘a thousand times over.” Love stretches us further. Even until death. Somewhere I read that our hearts can accommodate the universe.