A Jesus Like No Other: Restoring a Vandalized Portrait of Christ


Standing still with my head cranked backwards staring upward into the vast, seemingly endless pillars which meet the ceiling of the Notre Dame Cathedral, I stood in awe. Not just at the unbelievable architecture but at the massive paintings of Christ and other apostles and martyrs hanging on every wall, low and high. So many portraits cover the walls that one is bound to miss some.

I was standing in this cathedral because of my professor. Myself and several other graduates in the History department at CSU Long Beach were sent to Europe to conduct research on late Roman interactions with the Germanic tribes, examining archaeological sites and artifacts. But my professor, knowing that I am a Christian and that I liked that “religious stuff,” decided that a few stops at various cathedrals would be enjoyable.

So as we stood in the Notre Dame Cathedral, perhaps the fifth cathedral we had visited in Europe, several themes became apparent.

My professor, whom might be considered hostile toward the Christian faith or at least think it rather silly, stood in front of two particular paintings for quite some time. I noticed his lingering and joined him in front of the portraits. One image portrayed Christ crucified in a rather gruesome blood-soaked way, the artist no doubt celebrating his passion. The other, a classical image of Saint Sebastian martyred, filled with arrows for his unwillingness to deny Christ. These were common portraits in every cathedral.

I stood silently reflecting on the price Christ paid for man and the cost some have paid to follow him.

It was ultimately my professor who broke the silence. With a snide, mocking tone he said, “Well here’s St. pin-cushion again. Christians are so in love with gore….” And with that he walked away.

I was shocked. Not so much that others don’t believe. I got that. What I found curious was that while we were looking at the same portrait, we were thinking two entirely different things. Upon reflecting, I asked one of the other graduates what he saw when looking at the portrait of Christ. He said, unequivocally, that the image was homoerotic with only the little piece of cloth covering his “maleness”—something done intentionally to excite the imagination. Others said that the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is pure fantasy, a classic story of a man raised from the dead, a zombie, whom then went about making an army. An army of the undead. An army of zombies.

Christians are just a bunch of zombies.

I can’t blame this particular friend, he has a thing for zombies.

I realized on that day that there are a far-flung assortment of images in the minds of people about Christ. Each person, whether Christian or not, has a portrait of Christ in their minds.

And these portraits have been vandalized by our cultural baggage. Baggage that we bring to Christ and cover who he actually is, distorting his true image.

It is quite a work to clean and strip-back all the crud and trash, the traditions and cultural images, that have collected on his portrait.

We need to see Christ as he actually is and not as we want to see him.

What sort of portrait do you have of Christ?

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