January 15, 2017
“He saw Jesus coming toward him.” (Jn 1:29)
This verse captures a precious moment in which John catches sight of the long-awaited One. He did not know him, but he knows him now, having seen the Spirit descend. Jesus walks toward him. John knows him, but he could be just anyone. Anyone could be Jesus walking toward him.
“What’s the one you love look like?”
This question was asked me on my solemn profession day. I had spent a substantial amount of time deciding on an image of the face of Jesus for my profession card. Most images of Jesus just don’t satisfy me. So what does he look like?
Tall or short? (Someone once told me of a spiritual experience in which Jesus appeared short and stocky with a noticeable paunch.)
Dark or fair? (I once saw a movie in which Jesus had red hair.)
Long hair or short? (Some traditions give him a pony-tail.)
Bearded? (A fourth-century communion paten shows him beardless.)
Historical/archaeological reconstruction points to a broad olive-skinned face and large nose with short, dark, curly hair and beard. Of course, inculturation of Christianity across the world has produced a great variety of images of Jesus, each tailored to particular racial characteristics and cultural ideals. This very variety speaks to the acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior of all peoples, who is close to them, one with them, even in appearance. What’s more, this tradition of inculturated images keeps alive the challenge of the gospel witness that Jesus looked just like anyone else – why else would John need to point him out?
The point of the one who asked, “What’s the one you love look like?” was that I should look at the faces of my sisters in community. That this is a great challenge would be obvious to anyone who has lived in close quarters with others. After the honeymoon period with people whose convictions and way of life we admire, daily irritations begin to creep in. “Why does she walk that way? Doesn’t she realize her cough is a distraction? There she goes again, shooting her mouth off.” If we are not careful, we can start, unconsciously perhaps, to take notes on the faults and foibles of others. We can keep mental filing cabinets full of manila folders for each person we know. Of course, the problem is always theirs.
Evagrius of Pontus says that it is the Adversary who tempts us against nature and against truth to judge our fellow human beings harshly. In a similar vein, Dante describes anger as a thick and caustic fog which causes the eyes to sting. We cannot see clearly. Our irritation blinds us to the truth of the other person. One of our retreat masters said: “I love God as much as the person I love the least.” A knife to the heart, that one.
"Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29)
The Lamb of God takes away sin, he does not publicize, criticize and condemn. I also have the choice to keep the failures of those around me before my face, or to let them go. Only if I make some deliberate choices to empty the filing cabinet can I receive the person coming toward me with openness. Then I have a chance at seeing Jesus.
“Open our eyes to the simple beauty all around us, and our hearts to the loveliness people hide from us because we do not try to understand them.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Image: Andrei Rublev