Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Two Faces of Christ

This 6th Century image of Jesus, from the Eastern tradition, has a remarkable quality. Cover the right half of the face and you'll see a benevolent, kind Jesus. Cover the left half and you have a stern, almost angry Jesus. Perhaps more than one artist was involved in its creation.

Interesting thing about this and all early images of Jesus. They reflect the ethnic and cultural bias of the artist or group of artists doing the work. Most of these paintings were commissioned by Higher Ups so the artist(s) was probably restricted from just going hog wild and using his/her imagination. (Yes, there were female artists, but they mostly used male pseudonyms.) I suppose it had to be that way since, prior to this image above, no consistent images existed. And there is no description of the physical Jesus in Scripture. We can assume, though, that if this man actually existed, he would have been short, dark, bearded, dirty, and strong. Oh, and most assuredly determined.

Jesus is a man for all seasons, then. He appears to each of us in a different and quite personal way. So, no matter how you view him, no matter how you do or do not celebrate his birthday at this time of year, you cannot argue with the fact that, in spite of the images, words, and claims about him, he has made a more profound impression than anyone else in all of history.

A final thought: The Jesus in this painting conveys both sides of human nature. Joy and fear. I feel more connected to it than to those later follies that show Jesus in fine clothes, red hair, and white skin, looking longingly into heaven. This 6th Century Jesus is human, tough, and one of us.

Happy Holidays!

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