Every Sunday, she was distracted by that picture. Tried not to look for too long, because it made her uncomfortable, but she couldn’t get it out of her head. And there, just on a forgotten wall down the church hall. She thought maybe they should have covered up that picture years ago, like all the other ones. But for some reason, they forgot this one.
She couldn’t have been the only one who looked on this picture and wondered. Yes, it was old, historically accurate, she imagined. But still, it made her cringe. Years had passed since such barbarous and shameful activity was tolerated in public. She struggled to conceive of a time when everyone was so careless, so unloving, living in such present danger. And there, the singular most loving man in history, was portrayed in this picture as a reckless animal.
The world she knew was much safer and calmer. Humankind made a huge turn in health and progress about 20 years ago, virtuously protecting each other once again. Countries across the globe banded together in an ultimate act of unity, rewriting the social contract of human decency. Mandated distances and face coverings protected people from the filth of one another. Now the world was a much cleaner and more ordered place.
Any child who had grown up in the pandemic age couldn’t remember a time when it was acceptable to undress your mouth. The safety of coverings contained smiles, frowns, spit, harshly spoken words, and raw breath in the presence of others. Polite society no longer had to resort to speaking out loud with their contaminated exhalation. There were more efficient ways of communication now, with no need to expose the naked lip. Even art and history were sensitized and reinterpreted in this new age of protection. Pictures, memorabilia, and even stained-glass windows in churches were dressed in modest mask attire to maintain the safety message for the sake of the greatest good.
Which is why this picture was so disturbing. She could clearly see those dirty thin lines tracing the mouth hole on a wretched face. Dripping with slobber. Smeared with blood. The most unsanitary and unsafe countenance beneath a piercing agony from his eyes. She could think about nothing kind and beautiful in this face. She couldn’t recognize what they called king of kings or merciful love. It was just gross and scary to look upon that uncovered mouth.
The mask was more than just a precaution of health to her. It was a visible compassion and compliance that the good girls must wear. She proudly wore her symbol of self-control and moderation. By her mask, by her visible testimony, she was doing the right thing. And yet, the most holy and pure Son of God spoke freely into the open air, even breathed onto the skin of his disciples. The risks he took, inhaling the diseased, touching the sick, talking to the undeserving, eating with sinners. This unmasked picture of Jesus is a shocking threat to the life of the people he came to save, she thought. How could God send His Son in such a carless, unrighteous way?
Yet, there was something strangely beautiful about the passionate freedom portrayed in that picture. A confession that the broken lips, exposed skin, bloody crust, dying breath, is hiding under the mask. Not just on this ancient painting of our Lord. Rather our own bleeding mouth, shameful smile, deadly tongue, dying breath lays just under any mask we choose to wear. Beautiful because it is not a shocking secret to our Savior, our face of twisted agony became His. Passionate because every molecule that we hide screams the truth, that we can’t bear to look at ourselves. Freeing because this appalling, uncovered Jesus was certainly raised to eternal life, defeating the power and purpose of any mask ever again. And to her, who looks upon His death and resurrection but understands it as her own, He has already given her a life unmasked: now and until forever.