Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
These are the words of the 16th Century Roman Catholic Saint and Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila (1515-82). I love the tangible, physical nature of Teresa’s words. They are direct and unmistakable - we see that the Christian life is dynamic and active: to be lived out in our lives, to be embodied.
The epistles of Paul are full of rich imagery of the Church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), where all parts are valued as equal in worth and for their unique role in enacting the gospel. As members of this body and as disciples of Jesus, we are also called individually to be salt and light in this world, preserving the teachings of Jesus and revealing God’s love (Matthew 5:13-16). But Jesus goes even further than this:
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)
We see here Jesus compelling his followers to do even greater works than his own (surely not, Jesus?). To get a clearer picture of what this means for us, we need to ask: what works did Jesus do? The gospel accounts show us a Jesus who is passionate about people receiving ‘life in all its fullness’ in the here and now (John 10:10). Jesus feasted with the marginalised, restored broken lives, challenged the corruption and hypocrisy of religious authority, and undermined the pillars of empire with a gentle force - inaugurating a new Kingdom where the last shall be first and those that serve will be known as greatest (Luke 4:18-21). If we are to be the eyes with which Jesus looks on the world with compassion, then these are the things we are to do.
The call to discipleship is a costly one (Luke 14:33), but we are not alone in our struggles for a better world. We read in John’s gospel that in Jesus we have an advocate in heaven (John 14:12-13), laying the foundations for our works of justice. Jesus also reminds us that we are sustained through the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells amongst us and gently nudges us when we become complacent about what it means to be a disciple (John 14:15-27). So as we keep in step with the Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit Paul describes to the early church – love, peace, gentleness- are manifested in our lives (Galatians 5:22-25).
As students, there will be opportunities for you to put your faith into action in your communities – to be Jesus’ hands and feet. For some this may involve working in a sanctuary centre, distributing food to the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, or challenging those who allow injustice to go unchecked. Organisations such as Church Action on Poverty (CAP) address and challenge the root causes of poverty in the UK, and like many similar organisations have lots of ways to get involved in their campaigns.
The individual call to follow Jesus will look different for each of us, but like Matthew in the tax collector’s booth, when we hear the call, we all have a choice to make about whether we’re going to stand up.
What does the call to be Christ’s hand and feet mean to you?
If you'd like to write a blog post on the theme of St Teresa's prayer then we'd love to hear from you! It can be an article, a poem, a piece of artwork or anything else you'd like to share. Please e-mail Chris on firstname.lastname@example.org to send in your contribution. We'll be posting your contributions onto the blog every week in the run up to 'No Hands But Ours' – SCM's Autumn Gathering taking place over the weekend of the 28-30th October exploring how we can be an example of Christ's love in the world.