I RECENTLY saw an image of a closed fist next to an image of an open palm.

It struck me that these are alternate ways of living life.

The closed fist reminds me of the selfish drives within me, the desires in me to take what I can from life – and get to it before anyone else does.

It is the side of me that makes sure I take the largest slice of cake from the plate, that I secure a seat with a good view, that I don’t leave a gap in traffic for anyone to sneak into.

The open palm, alternatively, reminds me of the moments when I live more generously, when I give to others freely, even considering their needs ahead of my own.

It reminds me of the joy in holding lightly to things, of the freedom of finding my identity in my relationships, not in what I own or earn.

Living the closed-fist way of life might secure me more material possessions but perhaps it makes me more isolated and less fulfilled.

Maybe this is similar to when Jesus talked about gaining the world but losing our soul.

I’ve also been thinking about the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus again recently.

Zacchaeus was the short tax-collector who climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus.

Jesus sees him and invites himself round to Zacchaeus’ house.

In that moment Zacchaeus, who had prioritised hoarding up wealth over everything else and was hated by his neighbours for it, is radically diverted from a closed-fist life to an open-palmed one.

When Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus in friendship Zacchaeus’ fist unfurls, and he discovers in himself a deep generosity. 

He immediately gives half his fortune away to people in need and seeks reconciliation with those he has wronged – giving back to them four times what he has taken.

I imagine Zacchaeus as an isolated and bitter person, self-focussed and blind to the pain of others, yet radically changed in that moment of friendship.

He opens his hands, not only to give to those in need but to receive joy and life in his relationships with others too.

Perhaps that’s what is most compelling in that image of an open palm – the open palm is not only a giving stance, it is also the way we hold our hands in order to receive a gift.

Whenever we can loosen our fearful grip on things and let go of our need to control life, we find not only new joy in living generously but also that the generous life rebounds upon us.

When we open our palms to the needs of the world around us, we find our own lives and hearts enriched too.

I would like to find more ways of opening up my closed fists, more ways of living unguarded and generously, more ways of being affected by the world beyond my immediate view, more ways of being enriched by community and relationship with others and with God.

James Gregory

Senior Pastor

Crediton Congregational Church