Ecce Homo and the Image of God

This week it turned out that the apparent vandalism to this painting was actually a misguided but earnest attempt to help. The painting, Ecce Homo, is a fresco in the Santuario de la Misericordia in Borja, Spain which, as the middle photograph shows was in need of restoration. Cecila Gimenez, a parishioner in her 80s who loved the painting, decided to do something about it and undertook the restoration project herself. The result is the third image and a quickly spreading internet phenomenon.

I’ve been thinking about this story all week. The story of a kind and devout elderly lady attempting to restore the image of Christ she holds so dearly. The delusion to think she knew what she was doing and the disappointment when she realized she didn’t. I don’t think I’m alone when part of me laughs at the absurdity of the woman while another part weeps with her. Do you remember being a kid and trying to fix something you broke while your parents are gone?  Do you remember the anxiety and terror as you hear the garage door open and you still haven’t fixed it, and perhaps have actually made it worse? I think that might give us a glimpse of what this woman felt.

But even in my laughing I have to weep. Because as I step back from the situation I realize that I am only laughing at myself. Here is, in principle, what this story is about. There is damage to an image of God, somebody tries to fix something they can not fix, and they just make it worse.

Each of us is made in the image of God. In the beginning, whatever that means to you, that image was our primary image. And then man trying to become as great as God fractured the world and our self-image was destroyed with the world. So we began covering up our true-selves, our God’s image selves, with external things. Immediately this meant that man fashioned for himself clothes from leaves to cover his shame. What was he ashamed of? His nakedness, which is another way of saying his raw humanity. Man was ashamed of being man. Ultimately this meant that man fashioned for himself masks from success, money, sex, acceptance, and even sometimes religion, to cover up his broken God image.

When God showed up to discover man was hiding (by the way, man can’t hide from God), we see the first example of man breaking something and realizing he is in way over his head. The leaves were not enough. When God breaks into our lives we see that the leaves we’ve fashioned to cover our humanness are not enough. But beneath the leaves there is still an image of God in us. It is fractured, but it is there.

And so we have here, like in the Ecce Homo fresco, three stages of the image of God in man. One is clear. The second is there, but damaged. The third is covered beyond recognition by the work of man’s own hands.

In Genesis God discovers man’s feeble attempts to cover his fractured self. In response, God kills an animal and creates clothes to cover the man. We see here the image of sacrifice, the idea that something must die to cover man’s fracture. Now man is identified with what was sacrificed for him. He is now covering up his fractured God image with the image of animal.

We are all Adam and Eve. We have all fractured the image of God in ourselves and with flimsy leaves try to fix it. We are all Cecila Gimenez. We see an image of God in need of restoration and with clumsy strokes we try to correct it.  But we cannot. We only distort it more.

Ecce Homo is Latin for “Behold the man.” They are the words used by Pilate in John 19:5 when he presents a beaten Christ to the crowd that is shouting “Crucify Him!” It is the image of Christ so many behold as savior of the world. It is the image of the loving Lord and suffering servant, the image of God-become-man who died in our place. Ecce Homo is, in so many ways, a perfect representation of Christ.

Behold the man! The man who is not just made in the image of God, but is the image of God! The man that is God! The man that is sacrificed to cover our fractured self. Like the animal in Genesis 3, this man’s death covers our fracture and enables us to take on his image. But this is not the image of animal, it is the image of God. Our fracture is restored and once again man can bear an unfractured God image.

And so we are given a fourth stage: the restoration by the master craftsman. The putting on of Christ as man’s new image of God.