A Look of Calm Commitment in Jesus’ Face

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St. Paul perhaps best summarized Christian living when he wrote to the Corinthians (known so well for their folly): “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor” (1 Cor. 4:10). To be a fool for Christ’s sake means to put everything on the line for the Lord, and want only one thing: to do the will of God. How challenging it must have been for the Apostles on the eve of the Passion of Jesus to watch him, and imagine the possible sufferings he would undergo, beginning with his three unjust trials, one religious (Sanhedrin night court) the other two civil (Herod and Pilate’s day courts). Of course, whatever ideas the Apostles might have had regarding Jesus’ sufferings fell amazingly short of reality: Jesus would be rejected, forgotten, mocked, beat-up, tortured, and shockingly executed for simple wanting to do the will of God: “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9).

The three main charges that got Jesus into legal trouble: that he could forgive sins; that he called God his Father; and that he was a rival king, were true. Other ersatz “Messiahs” had made similar claims and “had come to nothing” (cfr. Gamaliel’s speech in Acts 5:35). Why was Jesus’ case  so different, so passionate?

I think it has to do with Jesus’ face. The look, and the looks, of Jesus is one of constant commitment and calm. His face speaks throughout his public life, and communicates that he really means his mission: to do the will of his Father. This look of commitment enrages those around him, precisely because it is not the appearance of a madman. So the worst punishment they all can come up with is lethal public mockery (crucifixion), and present him as a fool to the crowds so that they might see what happens to those who dare put on the look of Jesus for themselves. So his trials, punishments, and death were the condemnation of a fool. As Pilate was informed: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews’” (John 19:21).

The absolutely surprising thing about all this is that Jesus’ face, though bruised and bloodied, remains calmly committed  throughout the Passion. Nothing can stop it! We know this because his speech is filled with forgiveness, comfort and understanding to those who mock and hurt him. All of the Passion narratives indicate this phenomenon. Certainly the peace and calm of Jesus’ face has been commemorated throughout art history for centuries. A recent painting of the crucifixion by the contemporary American artist, Eric Armusik expresses this mood very well. This amazing painting now resides over the altar at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio (yes, that’s right). Take a look at it yourself and let me know if you see the calm commitment to the will of God in Jesus’ face. Is this the face of a fool… or a Savior? Happy Holy Week!

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