Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Station Six: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

photo by rockface/flickr 
A pious woman wiped Jesus' face.
(Tradition of the Jerusalem Church.)

Veronica is the only character in the Stations who is not mentioned in the Bible. All the others’ names appear on the marquee. Not Veronica. Where she came from we do not know. Her personal history, if anyone ever knew, has faded over the centuries. But not her name. And not her deed. 

Picture the scene. Jesus staggered under his heavy load. He had already fallen once. The crowds have spat on him again and again. Soldiers kicked him and nudged him with their spears on and on up that terrible hill. And then, it is as if time stood still. From out the crowd a woman weaved her way through the mob. Nothing could stop her. Some tried, I am sure. And then she came face to face with the Roman guards. They protected their prisoner. Not from sufferings—perhaps to make sure he did not escape. All hell would have broken loose had this man called Jesus escaped. And so the soldiers made sure this crucifixion would take place as scheduled. But this woman, legend called her Veronica—pushed against the soldiers. Women were not supposed to do that. In fact, they were not supposed to be anywhere close—but back on the edge of things—out of sight and out of mind. Except of course, when men needed one for their own needs. But here she stood head held high, determined. Miraculously, the soldiers let her by. And then she saw Jesus up close. The wounds, the blood, the broken body nearly spent. She saw the eyes and the weariness that suffering brings. Spittle from a hundred mouths—ran down his face and body like a river. Time must have stood still for a moment. She took the veil from her face. Women were not supposed to do that. Unveiled in public. But she unwrapped the veil and reached out to Jesus. Did she know him? Who knows? We do not know if she was a follower or not. We only know she touched the face of Jesus, wiping away what blood and tears, perhaps, and the spittle—the parts she could reach. It must have been just a moment—but Jesus’ eyes met hers and he must have nodded or tried to smile. She knotted the veil up in her hands and the crowd parted as she turned away.

That’s all we know of this woman, Veronica. Interestingly her name means image or true icon. For in her action she reflects what we are all supposed to be as human beings. Courageous, compassionate, kind—caring for someone despite the consequences or inconveniences.

Did she make Jesus’ journey easier? Probably not. But this is not the point. She reached out and did what she could.  It wasn’t a man—Simon was forced to carry the cross. No. This was a woman, in New Testament times, who showed us what is the essence of the gospel. We keep remembering, as she reached out to Jesus, those last he gave us, “Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of do it unto me.” 

We live in a strange time. We compassion-fatiguers pass by so many every day that suffer and need. Most of our churches spend most on ourselves. Yet out there in every neighborhood are the silent poor and abused and hurting—that need someone to reach out and care. Most of our sermons talk about our needs and our problems: our...our...our. Not many talk about those without insurance or those who can’t get green cards or those families split and divided by our laws. There is a new term floating around these days, “the selfies.” We take care of our selves and our own.  Listen to our pronouns. Me. Mine. Us. Ours. We.

Standing here beside this Station—we see a woman we know so little about. But we do know she risked so much to do what she could. She shames us all. For she shows us in this simple act what a human supposed to be. I hope I don’t forget this woman and I hope I remember her, again and again, when I see the least of these in the grocery store and holding up a sign or weeping down my block.

Stories galore talk about the fact that when she pulled her veil from the face of Jesus—embedded in that cloth was the tortured face she touched. That doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that she took away more than she ever gave. I think even in her old age she did not forget that day when, as a young woman, she dared to do what nobody else did. Is that what Jesus meant when he said: Follow me?    

Compassionatebloggers / fllickr

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