The Old Testament reading set for Holy Communion today is the account, from 1 Samuel 17, of David and Goliath. Goliath is a seasoned warrior, an expert in close-quarter, hand-to-hand fighting; whom the young David defeats by choosing ballistics.
In its telling, the story focuses on David’s hands. We are told that he sets out against the giant with his shepherd’s staff in one hand and slingshot in the other. That, in response to the Philistine’s taunts, he declares that “God will deliver you into my hand;” that he put his hand into his bag, took out a stone, and slung it into Goliath’s forehead; that he prevailed over the Philistine with no sword in his hand — but that he then grasped Goliath’s sword, drew it out of its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it.
The irony of the tale is that king Saul, himself a giant of a man, who cowered before Goliath, was from a tribe that was renowned for its skill with the slingshot. But Saul was caught in a story he could not break out of.
The account is paired with a Gospel passage, Mark 3:1-6, in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The man’s condition is underlined. Jesus instructs the man to stretch out his hand — potentially exposing his weakness, to ridicule or shame — and when he did so, his hand was restored.
The Pharisees, however, are incensed. They are trapped in a story they cannot break out of, that it was not lawful to heal (a form of work) on the Sabbath.
People regularly tell me the same stories. I don’t mean older folk who are getting forgetful, and don’t remember that they have told me this already, not ten minutes ago. I mean stories told me week by week or month by month, stories they seem unable to break free from. Often, stories that portray someone else — or an institution — as a bully to be overthrown, and yet who still exerts control over their imagination.
But they will never see breakthrough unless they are able to see the situation from a different perspective.
When we come to receive Communion, we stretch out our hands, to take hold of Jesus. And in this simple act of faith, it is just possible that our perspective shifts just enough, and for just long enough, that we might see the world from his perspective. Possible, but not inevitable.
What has a grip on you, restricting your freedom, your ability to take hold of life in all its fullness?
The breakthrough you need today might just be to hand.