Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jesus of the Broken Arm

Many years ago my mother had a kind of religious vision. She saw Jesus with a broken arm.

She reported the vision matter-of-factly, but confidently, as though its spiritual value, however minimal or uncertain, could be assumed. She described neither a full-scale apparition nor an image preserved from a dream. No, this was simply a quiet portrait of Christ, hung eye-level in the gallery of her mind. His arm was in a sling.

Christ died for our sins, Christians say. It seems a corollary that our sins killed him. Put even more pointedly, we sinners killed him. The sixteenth-century catechism of the Catholic Church placed responsibility for Christ's death squarely on the Christian people. The sins of Christians put Christ on the cross. Centuries later, in my Catholic elementary-school days, I was told that my sins drove the nails into Christ's hands and feet; each sin, in fact, drove the nails in deeper.

The logic, to be sure, is not airtight. Yes, if we had not sinned, Christ would have had no need to climb upon the cross for us. But He freely chose the cross--we did not actively pin Him to it. We must be eternally grateful for His act, and we would be bound for Hell without it, but we cannot, properly speaking, be blamed for it.

Well, enough.

Jesus of the broken arm, like Jesus on the cross, is an image of divine vulnerability, tangible and intimate. In the gallery of my own mind, the broken-armed Jesus is a friend who gazes at me without rancor or guile, without judgment or expectation. I want Him to tell me how His arm came to be broken. But He does not say. He knows. And He knows that I know, too.

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