September 26, 2021- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
Two dirty, grease-smeared, blue-jeaned legs and a pair of work boots stuck out from underneath my mom’s car. My dad was teaching me to change oil.
“Give me a hand. I need the oil filter wrench.”
I looked in the tool box. I had zero idea what an oil filter wrench looked like, and so I grabbed the biggest wrench I could find.
“Here ya go.” I crouched down and passed a pipe wrench to my father.
“Oil filter wrench. We aren’t fixing a sink.”
I went back to the tool box and shuffled around the box of screw drivers, sockets, loose bolts and ratchets.
I started getting frustrated.
“What’s it look like, dad?”
“It looks like an oil filter wrench.”
“Dad! I wouldn’t know what an oil filter wrench was if it jumped up and bit me in the…”
He slid out from underneath the car.
He rooted through the tool chest and produced a funky object that looked like it would be found in a torture chamber. It had a rubber loop “dooma jiggy” on one end and a handle on the other.
My dad realized that I really had no idea what I was doing.
“You need to know how to change oil in a car. You can learn.”
He taught me.
I slid under my mom’s car, and he walked me through the process. I learned how to put a car on the jack, drain out the old oil, change the filter, put new oil in, check the dipstick to make sure to ensure there was enough oil.
Aside from fixing a flat tire, it’s pretty much the only thing I know about auto mechanics.
I come from a long line of Rodgers garage tinkerers.
My dad, although not an accomplished car mechanic, knew enough to get by. It was the other projects he started in the garage workspace that I found fascinating, many of which my brothers and I lended a hand to complete.
“ Devin, Can you hand me the hammer?” He hammered a 2×4 in place on the club house that he designed and built with us.
“Give me a hand.” He taught us how to restring a bow, and then he built an indoor archery range.
“I need you to hold this flashlight…STOP WIGGLING IT!” His hands reached up into the inside of a tractor and shimmied out bolts, belts or spark plugs.
In that garage workspace, we helped clean hunting rifles, built dog houses, repaired cars, build garden trellises, and fixed bicycles.
I’ve never explicity asked him, but I would assume he learned all these handy skills from my Pap Rodgers. My Pap was the ultimate in garage tinkering. I’m assuming Pap learned it from great grandad Rodgers.
Generations of Rodgerses saying to the younger…”Give me a hand”
We became garage-tinkering disciples. Students of Rodgers-do-it-yourself-pretend-you-can-fix-it even-if-you-can’t school of home maintenance.
The teaching method was simple.
I Do. We do together. Now, You do it.
Ask when you need help.
The unspoken caveat of all of this learning was that
“When you have kids, love obligates you to pass the lessons on”
Perhaps you have similar experiences in your own family, shared family recipes, a special craft perhaps.
This is precisely the way God teaches us. Lessons are passed from Father to Son so that all future generations of children might learn.
I Love. I teach you to love. Love Others. When you need help…ask.
It makes sense. God’s very nature is love. All love shared in creation stems from the love that flows in a constant giving and reciving from our Trinitarian Godhead.
Because of this God teaches us to love.
We do. God extends and invitation. “Can you give me a hand with love?”
With this invitation we become disciples – students – and we learn to practice the very love that God practices.
The disciples did this side by side with Jesus. Following the hands of their master teacher, their own hands cast out demons, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind. When they get too caught up in the specifics of the lesson, and their view gets too narrow, they are reminded the true lesson behind the lesson, behind the ministry.
“Teacher, they aren’t following us, but are attempting to use the lessons you taught us!”
Don’t worry about that. Love is love.
Love cannot be handled by one set of hands. It has to be shared and in this way God takes on humanity first in Jesus Christ, then in us to teach.
St. Theresa of Avilla once said.
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
The Christian message is this simple. If we try to make love more difficult than being the hands of Christ, if we get too caught up in who’s in who’s out, or if we assume love is all about us, our comfort, or preservation we get stuck.
If we stop teaching and learning , if we see God under the car searching for an oil wrench, and we refuse to hand the confusing looking dooma-jiggy to his grease smeared hands, we get stuck.
Even if we get it wrong, the lesson can continue if we seek guidance. The problems arise, when we think we know better than the one who taught us.
In worst case scenarios, we can do great damage to other people’s relationship with God because the lesson is all about us working hand in hand with God in order to reveal God.
That’s why Jesus says, ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
How do we learn to give God a hand in a way that reveals God’s love?
The last part of the learning process is “You do!”
We don’t learn to love by reading about it or intellectualizing it. We don’t learn to be followers of Jesus by adhering to rules, learning theology (although that is important), using fancy religious dooma jiggies like prayer books and church gear.
We learn to be followers of Jesus by “Giving God a hand” and actually loving. All those other things serve this purpose and help refine our learning.
Even when we aren’t sure what God is asking for our desire to learn is enough. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
Where is God calling you to use the lessons of love that you learned.
Where are your hands called to teach love to another child of God?
I gripped the oil filter wrench, formerly known as dooma jiggy, and gave it one more torque. I passed it out to my father’s waiting hand. He dropped it back into the toolbox. My learning complete for the day.
The unspoken rule of my obligation, to pass it on still remains with me. To be more clear as love is in our nature this obligations ceases being an obligation and ends up as desire.
Sorry, I won’t be teaching our Middle School students to change your oil.
However, I can teach you the lesson that was ultimately behind the lesson I learned from my dad.
That lesson is this:
We can only share the love that was first shared with us. It’s passed from God to creation itself when God says “give me a hand.”
God uses the ordinary and extraordinary to accomplish it.
Hands passing auto tools. Folded hands. Hands that feed. Hands that heal. Hands that greet and welcome the stranger. Hands that hold one another in love. Hands that clap in joy. Hands that lay down weapons.
Hands pierced by nails, but bear the wounds of love.
God uses you, his disciples to learn this lesson.
I invite you to look at your own hands.
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no hands on earth but yours.
How will you use Christ’s hands to teach this lesson?