Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sad like Jesus

Christ as the Man of Sorrows
by Luis de Morales
A meditation

By Morris Dean

Last month some “communication problems” (let’s call them) put me in touch with a feeling of over fifty years ago, when I identified with Jesus as the “man of sorrows.” An image also returned to me, or at least I assumed it was the private picture of Jesus I had in my head then.
    Maybe I had seen the image in a painting somewhere, but I can’t find it among the hundreds of images that Google shows me in response to queries for “images man of sorrows.” I chose the one shown here, by the Spanish painter Luis de Morales (1512-86), as being suitably close, even though Morales’s Jesus isn’t looking you in the eye the way “my Jesus” is.
    I assume that Morales (and other artists who painted Christ as the man of sorrows) were familiar with the passage in Isaiah 53:3:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [–English standard version]
    I suppose I could myself have formed the image of Jesus that I was seeing; maybe it had been my own private image even back then – my image of Jesus quietly listening to his interrogators after being arrested: not responding, not seeking to justify himself, just letting them pronounce their judgment, trusting that they knew not what they were doing.
    Identifying with Jesus as the man of sorrows is the closest I ever got to the man. But it was an intimate relationship, and to have felt it again, fifty years later, was strangely, deeply comforting. In the days since its renewal I have felt delivered to a new plateau of equanimity and self-acceptance. The communication problems I described in the original post were a small price to pay for experiencing what I called “the resurrection of Jesus,” by which I meant merely the recurrence, through sorrow, of a felt connection between Jesus the man and myself. I did not mean to be referring to the bodily or spiritual resurrection of a divine person.

A word about “Jesus.” Though the original post was taken down less than twelve hours after it went up, a number of people saw it, including people who took the time and made the effort to comment at length on what I had written. A couple of comments were shared in the column “Bread & chocolate” (on July 7) – on the written versus face-to-face aspects of the situations I had described.
    But I received even more commentary on what I had written about Jesus. For example:

It is horrible to be so totally misunderstood and unjustly accused. That puts us in Jesus’ shoes right away: turn the other cheek; give the thief your cloak; etc. But Jesus had little patience with those who hurt others, who put their rules and authority before the feelings of fellow human beings. Sounds like you’ve been dealing with a bunch of Scribes and Pharisees. Even Jesus got angry at such people. Remember him with the money changers. Yes, it is possible to always act from a place other than anger, but really, you’re a man not a nun. I would cut yourself some slack. It is certainly possible to interpret the whole thing as a lesson in humility or something like that.
    I explained to him that I had tried to avoid invoking a divine Jesus, or even a forgiving Jesus, carefully writing of “Jesus quietly listening to his interrogators after being arrested: not responding, not seeking to justify himself, just letting them pronounce their judgment, trusting that they knew not what they were doing” – carefully not saying “forgiving them for they knew not what they were doing.”
    My correspondent acknowledged that “The name Jesus raises so many flags and hot-buttons for many people, myself included, that it would be remarkable to be able to read a phrase with ‘Jesus’ in it and not leap suddenly to some very irrelevant conclusions.”
    Indeed so! Another friend concluded his email with the remark, “Can I take away from all this that you have been ‘born again’?”
    I was dismayed at yet another apparent communication problem – until he assured me that he was joking. When I challenged him on the point, he sought to prove it:

I am sure you would have been like the other born agains – you would have had to shout it to the world, not have a guessing game. I was pointing out how it could have been taken, not what I was thinking.
    Thus is my own point reiterated. Gotta be careful when you invoke “Jesus.”

Copyright © 2016 by Morris Dean


  1. Playwrights long ago learned the trick of uniting a crowd with emotion. Comic routines are built around pulling everyone together through laughter. Preachers and politicians will often use humor to get the congregation/audience in emotional sync, and then hit them with the zinger, the key message. With the group emotions in unison, the message goes in with greater intensity and group identification than it might have if delivered without the comic overture. Sorrow does the same thing, I think, although more subtly and deeply. While humor delivers short-term effects, sadness lingers. It is probably the emotion that most links us to other human beings. It is the opposite of judgment, which is so often based on anger or fear. It was the observation of suffering (as we are told by some) that led the Buddha to determine a life path of helping others. Can we honestly look at the human race as a whole and not feel sorrow? That kind of perspective, not to mention that kind of honesty, is not for everyone. But in a person with truly global consciousness, such as the name you mentioned (as we are told by some), the sorrow would be an inundation: overpowering to the one feeling it, and repellent to those around him. I can think of no more human—and humane—type of identification with our fellows.

    1. Thank you, Eric! While I probably "overweaned" in comparing myself to Jesus Christ, I would nevertheless like to add that my own "global consciousness" of suffering extends to other animals than humans in the kingdom, as well. Hence, my caring about elephants, for example. Working on my hands and knees in the garden, I take care to respect worms and beetles and frogs and....

  2. Eric, your comment about group emotions brings to my mind the dynamic found in theatre. And Morris, your piece immediately made me think of the play, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The play does a better job of humanizing the Christ, than anything I heard in seven years of Catholic schooling.

    1. James, your comment makes me wonder whether my essential "shortcoming" in my lifelong failure to regard Jesus as "the Christ" (i.e., as divine) has been my proclivity to regard others as fellow sufferers. The same proclivity probably conditions my fellow-suffering empathy for all living creatures.