Monday, March 25, 2013

Vulnera Christi: The wounds to the head and face

As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see ; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. (Isaiah liii.14-15)

We know that Our Lord was not exceptional in appearance, save only in the Transfiguration, His Crucifixion and after His resurrection when His appearance was deliberately altered. We know that those sent to arrest Jesus had to rely on Judas identifying and betraying Him with a kiss. There are no direct references to His appearance in the Gospels. He is normal. One can look at His face and recognise that it is our own face.

Upon that face, we read the whole gamut of emotion. With a look, He can both convict us and recall us. Those He heals are first looked at, regarded, studied with an intellect that is both Human and Divine, though kenotic.

It is this very face burning with intelligence and love that is beaten, slapped with hands, struck with rods, spat in and upon which the crown of thorns is thrust scratching the skin and causing the blood to trickle. His face is indeed marred. "Behold the man!" says Pontius Pilate, and the figure of Jesus, looking more like a bloody mess after his beating, is paraded to the crowds. How can they recognise a triumphant king and Messiah in a bleeding lump of earth? It's easy to shout for the crucifixion of something that doesn't look really human.

Yet, what Our Lord suffers physically, we to suffer. Ours is a life like Dorian Gray. Our image too is marred by all the wounds inflicted upon us by the devil and by ourselves. Our disfigurement is the result of our own mutilation, our own cutting off of our nose to spite our face. And yet this disfigurement is not apparent to those who would look at us as we go respectably about our daily business. Our disfigurement is shut away in the attic.

But "For there is nothing covered , that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known", says the Lord (St Luke xii.2). Our Lord hid not His face from shame and spitting because He had nothing to hide. He came to be a revelation to us, indeed to reveal the Glory of God in humanity. We hide our faces from shame. We dress well to hide the frailty and vulnerability of our soft flesh forgetful of the fact that God can see through our deceits to the real people that we are.

Our Lord is disfigured so that our own disfigurement might be revealed to us. He gives us an opportunity to turn and not hide ourselves, and to know that we are loved for who we are rather than what we appear to be, and that we must afford the same dignity to all those whom we meet, accepting them for who they are in turn.

O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!
Robert Bridges

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