The “hand of the Lord”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, 23 June 2022
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><]]]]'> Acts 13:22-26 ><]]]]'> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:66-67

The term “hand of the Lord” is a description of God’s presence and power in the Old Testament, a vivid way of presenting God “intervening” in the daily lives of his people, saving them from all kinds of dangers like the prophets.

There was Elijah who was hunted by the soldiers of Jezebel and the “hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46) that he was spared from their murderous plots. Then there was also Ezekiel who saw “the hand of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1) upon him at the vision of a valley of dry bones coming back to life.

Sometimes, the “hand the Lord” referred to God’s judgment like when King David had sinned against God in not trusting him when he ordered a census of soldiers before a battle. It angered God who asked David to choose which punishment he preferred: natural disaster or victory by his enemies or God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great…” (1 Chr. 21:13).

In narrating to us the events that transpired at the birth and circumcision of John, Luke merged the two meanings of the expression “hand of the Lord” to show that every moment of judgment is also a moment of grace as seen in the life of John the Baptist who “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk.1:80).

If we go back to Luke’s account of the annunciation of John’s birth, we also find the hand of God clearly at him with Elizabeth feeling vindicated with her pregnancy specially when visited by Mary. Most of all, the hand of the Lord was strongly felt at the birth, circumcision and naming of John in the most unique manner not only because no one among their relatives have such name (Lk.1:61) but most of all when Zechariah his father wrote “John is his name” and “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Lk.1:63).

Photo by author, site of John’s birthplace underneath the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

What a beautiful scene of Zechariah and Elizabeth wrapped in the arms of God, basking in his tremendous blessings with the people so amazed for evidently God was present among them, working in the most special ways albeit in silence that after looking back to the past and the present moment, they wondered what more good things God has in store for the three.

The same scene happens daily in our lives as individuals, as families and communities and as a nation – of how the hand of God saving us in so many occasions like during this pandemic and recent disasters through generous people coming to our side. There lies the greatness of Zechariah and Elizabeth – through them despite their weaknesses, the hand of the Lord worked wonders not only for them but for everyone including us in this time.

We are invited today to be like John’s parents who, despite their weaknesses and shortcomings, they allowed the hand of God to work in them and manifest in them. The name Zechariah means “God remembers” while Elizabeth means “God promised”, a beautiful combination of names of a couple who tell us how God remembered his promise to them and gave them John which means “graciousness of God.”

Photo by author, 2019.

In this age when we act as though God does not exist with our emphases on the wrong notions of freedom and the “dictatorship of relativism” along with materialism and consumerism, we celebrate this Solemnity of John’s nativity to remember our calling to be prophets and precursors of Jesus like Isaiah in the Old Testament who voiced dissensions to the wrong ways of the people like “a sharp-edged sword” and “polished arrow” (Is. 49:2) even to the point of offering one’s life, truly a precursor of the coming Christ.

John’s testimony still resounds today as proclaimed by Paul in our second reading, urging everyone to repent ones sins to go back to God, always ensuring we are not the Christ but merely his messengers not worthy to unfasten his sandals.

Today is also the eve of another Solemnity, that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as we come to close the first half of 2022. Let us not forget the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, that we must not let our guards down lest all our gains this year go to waste. Are we willing to be used as expressions of the “hand of the Lord”?

May we keep “the hand of the Lord” with us, allowing ourselves to be used by God like Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist in meditating where Jesus is leading us in the second half of 2022. It is enough that we lead others to Jesus. In fact, that is the only joy we have in this mission and once others have met Christ, then, like John the Baptist, we begin to disappear, leaving only the hand of the Lord. Amen.

Photo by Fr. Pop dela Cruz, San Miguel, Bulacan, 15 June 2022.

The hand of the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-8 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Advent Week IV, 23 December 2020
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:57-66
Photo by author of the entrance to the site believed to be where the Lord’s Precursor was born below the side altar of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karen, Israel (2019).

We are almost into the completion of our nine-day novena for Christmas as we heard today the story of the birth of the Lord’s Precursor, John the Baptist. It is a story narrated so simple by Luke but filled with beautiful meanings specially for us today in this time of the pandemic.

First thing we see is how Zechariah’s speech was restored upon declaring the name of his son is “John”:

He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:63-64

Luke did not tell us what kind of praise did Zechariah speak about God when his speech was restored but here we find that basic truth in our lives that for every blessing we receive from the Lord, right away – immediately! – we must praise and thank God first.

Moreover, this scene shows us the good effect of the “imposed quarantine” on Zechariah when he was made deaf and speechless after doubting God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth during the annunciation by the angel while incensing the Holy of holies in Jerusalem.

God restored the power of Zechariah to speak again and greatly renewed him that this time, he had become obedient to the Father to his plan. In a sense, Zechariah was not merely freed to speak again but most of all, he was freed to believe and trust in God again!

As we have reflected last Saturday morning, Advent is quarantine. So many times in life, we have to step backwards, be silent to listen to God and just let Him do His work in us! Sometimes we think of so many things that are not really necessary and has nothing to do with God’s plans or work. With Zechariah able to speak now, he shows us that in the exercise of our powers we must first get in touch with God how to use His gifts to us.

This we shall see in our second point: allowing God to use us as His hand.

Photo by author, dome of the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, 2019.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

From rejoicing at the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, their neighbors now moved to being amazed when the child is named “John” that coincided with the restoration of his father’s ability to speak.

Luke tells us how it was such a big thing, maybe so “viral” and “trending” like today that everybody was discussing it. They must have felt God so near, almost there that Luke used an Old Testament expression, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him”.

It is a beautiful expression indicating power too, just like the ability to speak.

Our hands are so powerful that we are able to move and do so many things because of these.

To say “the hand of the Lord was with him” is to portray the image of God’s immense power, His omnipotence, of being able to do whatever He deems needed to life on earth.

In the Old Testament when Elijah was being pursued by the soldiers of Queen Jezebel after he had shamed the priests of baal for failing to light a pile of firewood for worship, the prophet escaped by running beyond human ability considering his old age because “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46).

Sometimes, the “hand of the Lord” can be scary as it means judgment or punishment from God like when King David disobeyed God when he ordered a census of Israel to find out how many men can fight in their wars, doubting the power of the Lord. David was given with three options for his punishment by the seer Gad: a natural disaster or a victory by his enemies, or a time of God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying “I am i dire straits. But I prefer to fall into the hand of the Lord, whose mercy is very great, than into the hands of men” (1Chronicles 13:21).

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC (2014).

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila used to tell of the story about the hand of God: he said sometimes, the hand of God would “spank” or hit us with pains and trials in life to discipline us and make us strong; sometimes, the same hand of God would caress and soothe our tired bodies or give us that proverbial pat on the shoulder to affirm us. But what is most important to remember according to Cardinal Sin is the fact that whether we are being disciplined or touched by the hand of God, it is always loving and merciful, most of all grace filled.

The recent news of that trigger happy cop who brutally shot and killed Sonia and her son Antonio in Tarlac recently is a reminder to us all most especially this Christmas in the time of pandemic, of the need for us to let the hand of God take control of our lives, guide us to life through more patience, love, kindness, and understanding.

It seems that so often, whenever we let our hands do everything, they always go out of control like our mouth and lips that lead us to more disasters and even deaths.

Beginning this Christmas, may the hand of God lead us back to Him and with each other.

Let us imitate the praying hands, of two hands touching each other but always creating a space between. That space is for Jesus born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, asking us everyday to take Him into our hands to care for Him, to protect Him through one another.

Amen.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on Pexels.com