Archive for Jesus

Children of God

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.

Luke 10:17-21


The seventy were giddy with excitement. They had experienced power and they had done great work. They knew the source of that power:  “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” They were charged up, ready to go again–you can practically hear them exclaiming, “Whoa! It was awesome!” And it must have made Jesus smile.

He gives them a caution, redirecting their joy to its true source in saving grace, but that doesn’t erase the pleasure he surely feels. Later that same hour, he rejoices in God’s presence that these openhearted seventy have taken it in whole.

I love reading about that moment when Jesus was happy. He spent so much time trying to get the message across to people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, listen or understand that the kingdom had come near. Saying the same thing over and over, coming up with so many parables, explaining the scriptures, sparring with skeptics–just imagining the effort is exhausting.

But this day is different. God gave them an opportunity, and people grasped a revelation. Like excited children they returned with joy, and Jesus, with tender affection, rejoices and gives thanks.

The movements of the soul – Christ among the doctors


For years this painting–Albrecht Dürer’s Christ Among the Doctors–has seemed to me profoundly odd. It’s so crowded! All those heads and hands and books. Why on earth would the artist pack a painting that way? And truth to tell, it feels a bit uncomfortable and almost creepy. What is going on here? I couldn’t figure it out, but this summer I had the opportunity to see the painting in person, and standing in front it, I felt like I finally made some progress.

I knew the subject, of course: a young Jesus is in the temple among the teachers, “and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2: 41-52)  And I knew that gesture has long been an important carrier of meaning in art. “These movements of the soul are made known by movements of the body,” wrote the great Renaissance humanist Leon Battista Alberti. So I at least had some context for this painting that Dürer created in five days while working in Venice.

One of the things I like to do in a museum is take pictures of paintings with my cell phone. Not just pictures of the entire painting, but close ups of the interesting bits. Details. I find it helps me think. And after looking at Dürer’s painting with my camera, here’s how I see it.

It’s the composition that reveals the story. At the center of the painting is a wheel of hands. Jesus’s young hands are making a point while the pale hands of the aged, blind teacher reach out to touch his arm and restrain him from speaking. That teacher–a doctor of the Law–is painted as a caricature, and caricature, like gesture, can be a quick way to convey a entire packet of meaning. We should understand this man’s blindness as both physical and spiritual. His hands are large and cold-looking as they try to overwhelm the boy Jesus’ hands.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors hands center



Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors Christ top


While none of the other faces are caricature, some of their expressions contribute to the viewer’s feeling of discomfort or danger. On either side of Jesus are two groups of three figures that mirror each other. Two of these figures are searching in books, arguing with Jesus about points of law. Two men catch our attention with their wild eyes: one looks at Jesus with suspicion; another looks out at the viewer with an expression of alarm.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors upper left eyesAlbrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors upper right










But in the midst of this swirl of confusion, mistrust, denial, and disputation, one of the teachers has stopped arguing. He looks at Jesus with what seems to me a world-weary hope, and Jesus, who has turned away from the blind doctor, meets his eyes with compassion.


Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors Christ and Listener


While all around people are moving their hands and rustling pages, this man has closed his book, and rests his hands on top of it as he listens attentively. In this stillness, he receives understanding.


Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors books and hands


The story that began with a wheel of hands, ends with hands at rest. As he does throughout this work, Dürer first makes his point by showing us a pair of images–here two books.  And then, like a storybook’s closing “The End,” the artist completes the narrative and confirms its meaning his by placing his signature and date on a bit of paper slipped between the pages of the closed book.


Albrecht_Dürer_-_Jesus_among_the_Doctors listening hands


“The movements of the body reveal the movements of the soul,” says the artist. “Be still and know that I am God.”


Prayers in the wilderness

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the wilderness this week: Christ in the wilderness for forty days. Moses in the wilderness for forty years. Moses interceding for the people so that God would not destroy them (pointing out to God that destroying his own people would look bad).

“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thy heritage, whom thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, whom thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness, or their sin, lest the land from which thou didst bring us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to slay them in the wilderness.” For they are thy people and thy heritage, whom thou didst bring out by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm.’   Deurteronomy 9:23-29


I’d been pondering for a few days, and then my sister sent me an article by Kevin P. Emmert called “A Lent that’s Not for Your Spiritual Improvement.”  Emmert urges us to look to the example of Christ in the wilderness and use our Lenten disciplines as a means to better serve our neighbors. He argues that we shouldn’t see Lent as merely an occasion for personal holiness or drawing nearer to God.

While I might disagree a bit with Emmert’s use of the term “personal holiness” (I don’t think true holiness can ever be selfish), I do take his point about the social dimensions of Lent. He quotes from Isaiah:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Isaiah 58:6–7

Now, I have never been a faster, but I am a pray-er, and it occurred to me that I rarely pray for God to forgive others’ sins. I ask on my own behalf all the time (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”), but how often do I intercede for others in this way? Truth to tell, it feels a little cheeky, if you know what I mean. Judgmental. It feels like taking on something that’s not my job.

In Hebrews we read about the office of the high priest

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.  

And we know that Jesus prayed for us, “Father, forgive them…”

I am not called to the priesthood. I am certainly not Jesus, but I wonder if, as we are all called to imitate Christ, we might not include in our intercessory prayers a request for forgiveness. Not just comfort and healing, not just the “let-this-cup-pass” kind of mercy, and not just “Spare thou those who are penitent.” More like “Spare thou those who are making the world a miserable place and who care nothing about you. Spare the ignorant and wayward and hateful. Forgive them.”

The one thing I know know I have in common with the high priest is that I am beset with weakness.  (Perhaps that knowledge will grant me the possibility of dealing gently with the clergy, as with all fellow Christians.) But here in this Lenten wilderness I am wondering about Moses and Jesus and praying for others.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…and please, God, will you forgive them too?

A light for revelation and for glory


Simeon Standard Reader

Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
by Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.C. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleveland
Standard Publishing Co., 1925.


And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:22-35


The Christ Child Maud and Miska Petersham Doubleday and Co., Inc, 1931.

The Christ Child
Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., Inc, 1931.


The two children on the steps in that first picture from the Standard Bible Story Reader remind me of youngsters watching a baptism. The smaller child seems to be asking a question, perhaps marveling at Simeon’s words like Joseph and Mary.


And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

That final sentence so beautiful. I think it expresses what we want for our own children, and for ourselves as children of God.

Born this day

Shepherds and angel glory

The Christ Child as told by Matthew and Luke
Made by Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., 1931.


Christ Child Petersham crop

The Christ Child as told by Matthew and Luke
Made by Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., 1931.



Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing;
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing.

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim;
For there’s a Savior born today,
And Jesus is his name.

Lay down your crooks, and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.

To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The first and last, the last and first,
Eternal praise afford.

Shiloh by William Billings, 1746-1800


Billings NewEnglandPsalms00bill_0008  Billings Newenglandpsalms title page bill_0009



Sabbath healing; sabbath freedom

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”  And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God.

But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.”  Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.  Luke 13:10-17


We know that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath (Mark 2: 23-28). We recognize the metaphor of the animal which is bound to service and the woman whom Satan bound to infirmity. We see that Jesus wins the theological argument and “all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced.”  But if I may add one more observation: how interesting that the ruler of the synagogue accosts the people with his indignation and not Jesus.

“There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” 

It’s a power play: chastising those who are lower down in the religious hierarchy; scolding people who are suffering and less likely to protest. He doesn’t tell Jesus to stop healing people, he tells the people to stop asking for healing. “Can’t we have one day a week without you people clamoring for relief!”

The sabbath is supposed to be a day for joy and freedom from work. Perhaps the ruler felt that having all those sick people around dampened the mood. Maybe he only cared about his sabbath and no one else’s. But on that day, Jesus gave the people an occasion to rejoice and praise God, and also gave them a sabbath to remember. Thanks be to God.

Simultaneous contrast with withered plants

Simultaneous Contrast Image by Demi-Plum on DeviantArt

Simultaneous Contrast
Image by Demi-Plum on DeviantArt


When two colors appear side by side, it changes our perception of them. Graphic designers and artists use this effect called simultaneous contrast. Sometimes when I think about passages of scripture they seem to exhibit simultaneous contrast as well. Different aspects of the story will leap out at me depending on which stories I hold in my mind in close proximity. I’ll show you what I mean.

It started when I read Mark 11: 12-25, where Jesus is driving the money-changers and vendors out the temple. Wrapped around the cleansing of the temple is the cursing of the fig tree in two parts:  first the seemingly unjustified cursing, then, the following day, Jesus explanation of the withered tree.  Here’s how it goes:


On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple.  And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”


I know I’ve heard this passage a hundred times, and I’ve always heard it as a story about the power of prayer (Have faith and cast that mountain into the sea!), but I’d never realized that the money-changers were inside a fig tree sandwich, so to speak. I wondered why Mark would write it that way. Then I noticed that the two incidents both involve Jesus teaching about prayer.

“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”


“…Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

That phrase “whenever you stand praying” reminded me of the Amidah–the central prayer in a Jewish service, recited in services three times daily during the week, and also at Sabbath and holiday services. Amidah is Hebrew for “standing,” and this prayer is recited while standing with feet firmly together so as to imitate the angels, “whose legs were straight” in Ezekiel 1: 7.

But here is the bit that stood out for me, the Amidah is said during services–which would be held in the temple or in a synagogue–in a house of prayer. And the Amidah, which is also called the Shmoneh Esreh–the Eighteen Blessings–includes praise, petitions, and thanksgiving. The worshiper asks for God’s forgiveness, compassion, and justice, but the prayer says nothing about the worshiper forgiving anyone else. To say “whenever you stand praying, forgive” represents a change, I suspect, and that, of course, reminded me of these familiar words from Matthew 6:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

So maybe these incidents are linked because they are about prayer. Because we need to know how to pray and to be mindful about how we treat a house of prayer, and, yes, to believe in the power of prayer.

But why did Jesus have to kill the fig tree? Was it just to make a point? It wasn’t even fig season. Wasn’t he expecting a bit too much? Is this an illustration of his anger before he even reached the temple? It seems almost petulant.

And thinking about petulance and withered plants put me in mind of another story–this time from Jonah (Jonah 3:10; 4: 1-11)


When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”  Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

And the Lord God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nin′eveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”


“You pity the plant…”  I do pity the plant. Sometimes it’s easier to pity the plant than the people making money off of other people’s piety. It’s so painful when a tree is cut down. Do I feel that much compassion for the TV evangelist who encourages the faithful to call in their pledges?  Would it offend my sense of justice if God ended up pitying folks who, given what God has already said, clearly deserve a bit of wrath? Would that make me angry enough to die?

So what’s the point? I’m not sure. All I know is that an interesting thing happens when you put these stories side by side. God seems to be using plants to comment on situations where we might be tempted to point the finger and get angry about other people’s sins–where we might get a little rigid in our thinking about justice.

Whenever you stand praying, forgive. That’s all I know for sure. I don’t think it’s wrong to pity the plants. I think I know my right hand from my left. I hope I’m not one of the cattle.


Sir, we wish to see Jesus


Head of Christ by Warner Sallman Image: Wikimedia Commons

Head of Christ by Warner Sallman
Image: Wikimedia Commons


Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


King of Kings
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Laughing Jesus

christ w arms raised georges roualt 1936

Christ with arms raised
by Georges Rouault

homeless jesus19n-4-web

Homeless Jesus
Timothy P. Schmalz, artist and photographer


Head of Christ by Richard Hook

Lasciate che i Pargoli vengano a me

Holy Card
Photo: Holy Cards for Children

good shepherd icon

The Good Shepherd icon


Cristo Redentor de los Andes
Photo credit: Andy Stuardo licensed CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons



Pieta by Michelangelo
St. Peter’s Basilica
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


And Jesus Wept
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church near the Oklahoma City National Memorial
Photo: Crimsonedge34 licensed CC by 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

16th st baptist wendy mdfadden for xn churches together

The Wales Window for Alabama, created by John Petts
16th St. Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Photo: Wendy McFadden – Christian Churches Together

Rembrandt Jesus Staatliche Museen Preussicher Kulturbesitz Berlin

Head of Jesus by Rembrandt
Staatliche Museen Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Berlin

Isenheim resurrection

Resurrection of Christ
Isenheim altarpiece
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Inspired by a sermon about our different versions of Jesus, I thought I would share a few of the many. There are thousands out there in art high and low–and that’s not even counting the kitchy plastic dashboard Buddy Jesus bobbleheads. Suffice it to say, that people imagine Jesus in all kinds of ways–which says a lot about us, and only a little about Jesus. One thing it says loud and clear is, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The sermon also made me think about Jesus’ words to Thomas (John 20:29), “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  I always felt those words as a rebuke to Thomas, but perhaps they have a second meaning. Perhaps it might actually be easier to believe Jesus is the Son of God if you never saw him in person.

How could it be easier to believe through a story than with a real flesh and blood person in front of you? When you hear the gospel, you can imagine him in almost any way you want: white, black, brown, tall or short, clean or scruffy, humble but with a presence–any way that is not an impediment. So the fuzzy edges of understanding might make it easier to embrace the truth, to be open to growth and deepening understanding. Perhaps waiting to see Jesus can be a sort of blessing, and our knowing that we do not know a semi-permeable membrane through which the Holy Spirit may pass. Perhaps we should have a bit of compassion for the people of Nazareth who in his presence believed they knew Jesus all too well and got caught up thinking, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?…” and they took offense at him. (Matt. 13)

Maybe we are blessed by hearing only and not seeing, and yet believing. Whatever version of Jesus speaks to us.

Medical oddity

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Ja′irus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years,and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease…. 

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But ignoring[a] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal′itha cu′mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43


A quick note today. Two things struck me as I read this passage:

The first was the condition of the woman with the hemorrhage, because she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”

If you’ve ever gone through invasive medical procedures for yourself or with a loved one, especially when trying to track down an elusive diagnosis, you know what this is like. You start to wonder if the doctors see you as a human being or just a medical mystery to be solved. People you don’t know come in to study you. You wonder if the cure is worse than the disease. You get tired of being a medical oddity. An anomaly. A freak.

That thought put me in a frame of mind to read the following story about Jairus’ daughter a bit differently than I usually do. When Jesus tells the crowd that the girl is “not dead but sleeping” and allows no one but Peter, James, and John and the girl’s parents to witness the miracle of her resurrection, he is giving the girl more than just life. Jesus gives her a life–which is to say, he gives her the cushion that a twelve year old would need to grow up and be happy. He strictly charges the adults not to tell what has happened so she can grow up as a person and not always be known as a freak or The Girl Who Was Dead. Ja’irus’ daughter is brought back to her parents and to herself–for all anyone outside knows, she really was just sleeping. It’s such a compassionate miracle. Not a manifestation of God’s glory at the expense of an adolescent. No, Ja’irus’ daughter will be all right. Now if someone will just get that child something to eat.

Marked by our past: echoes of Grünewald at



Some billboards in Texas are causing a commotion. The images, which are part of a campaign by the Christian outreach group, show a heavily-tattooed Jesus covered with words like “Outcast,” “Hated,” “Addicted,” and “Faithless.” An accompanying YouTube video presents a parable in which Jesus appears as a tattoo artist. People come to him with tattoos naming their sins and griefs, and the tattoo artist changes them into positive messages. Only at the end of the story do we discover that the artist has accomplished this by taking the original tattoos onto his own body.

The tattooed Jesus is a modern illustration of the idea that Christ shares our suffering and takes on our sins. “Surely he has borne our griefs,” we read in Isaiah, “a man of sorrows…and he bare the sin of many.” While the image offends some people, it brought to my mind a much older picture: the Crucifixion panel of the Isenheim Altapiece.


Isenheim altarpiece (closed)
Mattias Grunewald, 1512-1516

Painted by Matthias Grünewald in the early 1500s, the Isenheim Altarpiece was created for the Monastery of St. Anthony which specialized in the care of plague sufferers and those with skin diseases. The body of the crucified Christ is covered with sores to show patients that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions. It’s not pretty or heroic, but it’s very powerful.

Like the billboards in Texas, Grünewald’s painting emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, even as it asserts the power of his saving work. Perhaps that’s one reason for the offense.

Our life in this world changes us. Suffering and sin mark us like ink and scar. Thanks be to God whose Love takes us as we are and make us new.

Resurrection panel
Isenheim Altarpiece