Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Sixth Station - Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

"Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these...you did it to me."
      --Matthew 25.40

We move on, we pilgrims. We’ve met Simon who bore his cross and the Mother who stood by brokenhearted. But here in the Sixth Station we encounter not a gospel story but a legend.

From the Fourth Century dear Veronica has come on stage and taken her place in the Stations. This woman, whose name meant true icon or image is at the very heart of the Way of Sorrows—the Via Dolorosa. As that ugly crowd jeered and spat and sneered at the wounded Jesus, Veronica of whom we know so little squeezed her way through that swarm of hatred. Her heart went out to this one who stumbled and bled and suffered. From around her head she took the covering all women were supposed to wear in public. Who knows what rules or customs she may have broken that day in this simple act. Pushing her way through the angry mob she took her veil and tenderly wiped the face of Jesus. It was only a momentary gesture of love and compassion and yet in that moment she patted that face as clean as she could. No man would do such a thing. This was woman’s work.

She turned away from the ugliness and the pathos of that moment and left the crowd behind. As she started to put the veil back on her head she noticed the strangest thing. Embedded in that cloth was the face of the suffering Jesus.

Artists the world over have been intrigued with this story. Many have painted the scene with Jesus image beautiful and strong. But others, understanding the story much better have carved or painted or etched an imprint of Jesus suffering, wounded and scarred—a man like us.

What does all this mean? This Sixth Station. Many things I am sure. Could this stopping off place be a mirror, too for us and not just her? Hmm.

Is it too much of a stretch to say that when we dare to reach out and touch another’s wounds we might just come away with the scarred face of Jesus. He had told them, “Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these you do it unto me...” He had already told them that the blessed ones were the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungerers, the persecuted and the reviled...”

All the way through the winding bumpy gospels his work was always specific. Never general. A woman at a well. A dying child. A man crippled all his life. A near-naked woman caught in adultery. And if not these there was a Zaccheus and a Peter and a James and a John and a Martha and her sister, Mary and even a Lazarus.

Do we not find him, too in the messy specific situations of our lives? Sometimes gay or a wounded warrior in Afghanistan or a PTSD victim and his frightened family. It might just be your Mother with cursed Alzheimer’s or that man across the street with cancer or your friend that carries around what seems to be an endless depression.

And so when we reach out in caring and love we come away seeing the face of God clearer than any other times in our lives. Isn’t this what really was back of those Beatitudes after all. Blessed are__________and you and I must always fill in the blanks.

Something happens to the Veronicas.  In his face we see our faces and all the hurtfulness so many have had to endure. It’s more than the blood and gore of Jesus. Ask Veronica. Here all of us might just find some hope and promise for ourselves in a seemingly hurtful world.

Arthur Miller, I think writing out of his time with dear Marilyn Monroe wrote in his play, After the Fall, “There comes a time when we all have to take ourselves in our own arms.” And maybe when we are wiping some face or bottom of some child's spills we really do see who we truly are. Children of God. Human. Scarred. Often wounded. Us—us—children of God. Who would have ever believed it?

This Station is more than a legend. It is a story that could become your story and mine. And in the doing we will come away time and time again carrying in our hearts the face of Jesus. Irenaeus understood this when he said that he became like us that we might become like him. And this I think is one reason the Church did not leave Veronica out of the journey that led to Calvary.

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