Several years ago, I found myself at the county courthouse for a mundane reason: I had to update my certification as a public notary. While making my way to the correct office, I encountered a group of prisoners who were being transported to the courthouse for trial. Under the stern eyes of their guards, they stood silently, each handcuffed.
As I passed, my gaze lingered on one face in that lineup: the sullen countenance of a young woman, perhaps in her mid-20s, her brown eyes smoldering with mute rage. She stared into a distance where past actions and present reality had collided violently; her demeanor, made even more defiant by a rebuke from a corrections officer, protested her circumstances in a way words could not. She lowered her head, contemplating the metal restraints that barely allowed her to wipe away an angry tear.
Christ certainly knew the humiliation of handcuffs. Seized in Gethsemane with bloody sweat on his brow, he was bound and brought to the Jewish leaders and to Pilate (Mt 27:2, Mk 15:1, Jn 18:12). The hands that had healed the leprous, fed the hungry and raised the dead suddenly chafed against knotted leather and cord. The Shepherd who had fed his flock with his own flesh only moments before would now himself be “like a lamb led to slaughter” (Is 53:7).
To those present, the sight of this righteous rabbi — whose hands had so reverently touched the Torah and lifted heavenward in prayer, now manacled as a common criminal — must have been a shock. Only the basest and most rebellious would be so confined.
Yet in a very real sense, Jesus had actually been handcuffed from the moment of his conception in Mary’s womb — and quite willingly so.
The eternally begotten Son, who “was in the beginning with God,” and through whom “all things came to be” (Jn 1:2, 3) assumed “the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil 2:7). He who “spread out the heavens like a tent” (Ps 104:2) took on the fingers of an infant, submitting to the limitations of flesh, space and time. The one who had created the stars “by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6) learned to clasp a carpenter’s tools to earn his daily bread.
In love, Christ bound himself long before his captors wound their ropes around his wrists: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own” (Jn 10:17,18).
Our own bonds were bound up with his, since “he himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24; see also Is 53:4-6).
Jesus wore our handcuffs, including those on that young woman’s hands, and the invisible ones that bind us within: unforgiveness, greed, envy, hatred, bitterness, racism, indifference, addiction, selfishness and sensuality.
Imprisoned by his own divine love, Christ cut every cord and shattered every chain that enslaves us. As we journey through this holiest of weeks, may each and every one of us surrender to the One who offers our only hope for true freedom, and lift our unbound hands to him in praise.
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