The Face of Jesus

So today I got this email, and it was full of really nice, valid sentiments, and several really good points I need to be reminded about on a regular basis.  But that isn’t what this is about.  I just noticed something and I was wondering if anyone else notices the same kind of thing I did…

at the bottom of the email, there was a picture of Jesus–well, more like a copy of a painting, which looked very much like any of probably a million paitings you see in Catholic churches and households all around the world.  The part of that which I found interesting was that the Jesus in the painting did not look like someone born in Bethlehem, and noted as being a Nazarene Carpenter (“can anything good come from Nazareth?”).  No.  He looked like a white guy about 6 feet tall, with blue eyes and honey-colored hair, who could have been a starting point guard for the Jerusalem Globetrotters.

But if that isn’t what Jesus looked like, what did he look like?   And does it even matter?  It doesn’t matter to me.  I couldn’t find anything much in the Bible that described him.  But take a look at Isaiah 53: 2 ” 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him…

Does that sound like the guy from Jesus Christ Superstar?  Not to me.

I think he would have been of average size.  I think he would have probably been dark complected, or at least very tanned.  It’s the desert, for pity’s sake.  His hands would have been callused and strong from his work.  His feet, and robes would probably have been dirty from walking across his corner of the world.  If the above quoted old testament prophecy is to be believed, he would have been a perfectly ordinary-looking middle eastern man in his early thirties.

But this passive-looking gentleman with blue eyes?  I really doubt it.  I wonder who first came up with this “version” of Jesus?

You don’t see the man who upended tables in the temple, and made a whip from cords in those kinds of pictures.  You don’t see a man who weeps desperately for the people he’s come to save.  You don’t see a man carrying the heaviest of burdens.  No. 

If I may turn again to Isaiah:

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

How in the world would you depict a man like that?  Do you create features, and assign personality to them?  Do you represent the Light of the World solely as a mild-looking shepherd with a sheep across his back, or walking along patting little kids on the head?  How can you convey what he really looks like?  The answer is, you can’t.  You just can’t.

I saw a picture of a statue a few years ago, by some Danish or Northern European sculptor whose name escapes me.  I don’t know what the sculpture was made of, but it depicted a perfectly normal looking man, sitting on a stool and teaching.  His head is slightly bent, as he is speaking to a few children sitting in a semi-circle around him at his feet.  You can see the man’s entire body as he sits on the stool, except for his face, which is obscured by his longish hair hanging in front of it.  The children gaze raptly up at him, and the caption at the base of the statue reads:

If you want to see the face of Jesus, you have to sit at his feet.”