"I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6)
"He was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3)
Familiar words from Isaiah's Suffering Servant Song, so strongly associated with the suffering of Jesus in atonement for the sins of the world. Each Friday in Lent becomes a kind of rehearsal for the final Great or Good Friday when the story of his death is told in full.
Today I had to spend some time looking at images of people caught on camera in the process of thieving, or else photographed after detention. Often a subject is half aware of the possibility of being seen, and attempts to shield their face from scrutiny, hoping for anonymity. Once caught in the act, the face reveals a look of dejection, vulnerability, sadness, apprehension, as they realise their little gamble is over and now the consequences must be faced.
The law does not allow such images to be shown in the public realm, out of fair concern that each suspect is innocent until proven guilty, even when they have been caught red-handed. Everyone has a right to the due process of justice, even though the process itself is known to be sometimes flawed. Some offenders are vulnerable people, driven by compulsions they cannot control. Justice requires they are protected.
On this day therefore, no single image captures for me what this grey area between perpetrator and victimhood represents. Not even an abstract doodle of a face will do.
When we say that Jesus lived a perfect sinless life, totally secure in the love of his family and the love of God, it is not intended to suggest he didn't know what it was like to feel pain, endure sickness or exhaustion or even the sorrow of unintended conflict or misunderstanding. He was, after all, completely human and subject as all people are, to the changes and chances of this passing world.
What it does mean is that he was able to endure in suffering all the misfortunes he encountered without retaliating, without passing on suffering or harm to others. We go further than this by declaring that he freely chose to place himself in harm's way, identifying himself with the suffering of others, whether they were sinned against or sinning. In the face of rejection, hostility, mockery and shame, he did not hide his face. Others imposed that on him briefly while he was tortured. Whatever was done to him to cause him pain and suffering, his face, his gaze showed loving compassion beyond our full comprehension.
Many images have been made that strive to express this incomprehensible love, and they speak to our hearts at different times in life. On this day, however no single image of Jesus' face can represent them all, but they stand alongside those images of shamed remorseful offenders which cannot be shown. His love is so great that it embraces them all.