“And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20, NASB).
Almost everyone now seems to realize the unique nature of individual fingerprints. These elements of the human hand contain numerous whorls and other identifying characteristics that distinguish each individual from all others on earth. Fingerprints constitute evidence that in a legal setting may prove the presence of an accused at the scene of a crime and lead to conviction for that crime.
When the followers of Jesus were confronted with the mysterious emptiness of his grave they were understandably confused. Explanations varied from his having been moved by the gardeners or guards of the grave (John 20:15) to his body’s having been stolen by some of his disciples (Matthew 28:13). The true explanation, that he was risen from the dead, seems to have been the last thing they could accept (Luke 24:1-11).
However, later that same “first day of the week” while ten of the surviving eleven Apostles were together, “Jesus came and stood in their midst” (John 20:19). It was then that he showed his hands and side to them. It is not coincidental or insignificant that John’s account then proclaims, “The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20b).
Granted, it was not Jesus’ fingerprints that proved his identity. Nevertheless, the marks of crucifixion in his hands and side were incontrovertible evidence that this person whom they saw was indeed the same Jesus whom they had followed for over three years, and whom they had seen hanging dead on the cross, and whom they had laid in a borrowed tomb just three days previously.
It is not a stretch to say that one’s hands reveal a lot about them. Callouses and blisters typically reveal a hard worker. Smooth, unblemished hands suggest one to whom hard physical labor is unusual, and often are interpreted as marks of wealth and privilege. Hands may be indicators of temperament. “Hands of velvet” symbolize a soft touch, gentleness. “Hands of steel” represent strength and perhaps harshness.
When Jacob and Rachel conspired to trick Isaac into giving Jacob (the younger son) the blessing intended for Esau (the firstborn), she covered his hands and other exposed skin with the hide of a young goat so as to make him feel like his outdoors-loving brother to their blind father.
So, too, we often disguise our true nature or identity by changing elements of our appearance. Henry David Thoreau warned, “Beware of any job which requires a change of clothing” (my paraphrase). The implication is that the new clothes do not change our essential nature, only our external appearance. A more modern version is the much condensed, “Just be yourself.”
Who or what we are is often revealed at least in part by how our hands look, but even more by what they do. Our hands are directed in their activity by our minds, and that is the true seat of identity. Skillful observers may detect a musician by habitual movements of the hand. Other occupations or habits are just as readily revealed by characteristic gestures.
The disciples took one look at Jesus’ hands and knew with certainty that the Lord was alive and with them. When people take note of our hands, do they recognize our identity as his followers? Perhaps we should seek to ensure that they may.