Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Shake the hand that shook the hand

|   Commentary By Matthew Hennessey
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We’re having some work done on the roof of the new house. The chimney is twisted and needs to be rebuilt. Friends gave us the number of a guy we could call to fix it.

McNulty is from Ireland. He told me he did “finishing work” for Guinness. I know what Guinness is. What finishing work is I have no idea. McNulty came one windy weekend to asses the chimney’s twist. We stood together in the driveway, eyes on the sky. We both saw the problem but McNulty saw what I couldn’t: How to fix it.

I only know how to fix sentences.

The meeting took five or ten minutes. “It’s no good Matchoo,” he said, pronouncing my name in what I took to be Dublinese. “You don’t want one of them bricks coming loose and falling down into the driveway while the kids are playing and all.” We agreed that was something I did not want. “I’ll talk to my brick man—Billy from Kildare—and we’ll get you sorted straight away.”

We shook hands on the sidewalk and parted ways. As I watched him leave I thought, “My goodness my hands are an embarrassment.”

McNulty is a slightly built man but his hands were like cinderblocks wrapped in sandpaper. Shaking my hand must have felt, to him, like meeting a man-size chinchilla with opposable thumbs. I am inadequate in the hands department.

Pinkish, uncalloused, and prone to cracking in winter, mine are the hands of man who has only ever worked indoors. My palms are like pillows; my fingers like sausage links. Ever see a tree that has grown around a chain-link fence? That’s what my wedding ring looks like.

Years ago I worked in bars. I sliced lemons with sharp knives. I tossed around kegs and dunked pint glasses in scalding hot water. The enemy then was small nicks and cuts, which were annoying and could let in bacteria that could get me sick and unable to work. No one wants a drink served by a bartender with a scabby hand or a runny nose. I used lotion and other manly emollients to care for my hands.

These days my hands do nothing more dangerous than hunting and pecking. My desk is ergonomic. My keyboard has a wrist rest. I still get little nicks and cuts, but mostly from the sharp corners of Post-it notes. I have one callous—on the tip of the finger that does my most aggressive deleting.

When I was a kid the joke was that plumbers made more than guys who worked in offices. Now I hear you can make a good living as a welder. My hope for my sons is that they have manlier hands than I do. Maybe I’ll send them to welder’s college.

Jesus was a carpenter’s son. Some scholars say the Greek word tekton, usually translated as “carpenter,” really means “builder.” It’s possible that Joseph was actually more of a stone mason. Either way, if Jesus worked alongside his father, his hands must have been rough. Like McNulty’s, not like mine.

Jesus swung a hammer. He knew his way around a workbench and a toolkit. He was fit for a job using chisels. So many familiar images of Our Lord convey a different vibe. Arms outstretched and surrounded by divine light, the Jesus of our time is a softie. We see him in hippy robes, cuddling a lamb. He hammers out justice, not stone blocks.

We see Jesus sad-eyed at the Last Supper. We see his thin, broken body on the cross, his hands bloodied by the nails, his lean torso twisted. But Jesus was a working man. Yes, the message of his public ministry was mercy, but his day job was building houses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see an icon of Our Lord that makes him look like what he was? Some artist should render his misshapen fingernails and tough, calloused palms. If he needs a model, I can give him McNulty’s number.