This tenth station presents a challenge to me, since I’ve been portraying Jesus as naked throughout this entire series, which means that the effect of seeing him stripped of his clothes is somewhat diminished. I’ve been painting him naked because that’s the way I feel when I enter into periods of great suffering. Naked, exposed, my dignity undefended. That, of course, is part of the difficulty and challenge of suffering. It leaves one naked before a world that may or may not be sympathetic.
So I couldn’t paint him being stripped of his clothes. I decided, instead, to try to give him an expression that could be read as naked – an expression on a bruised and ruined face, a face that injury has stripped of its beauty and peace. His lip is swollen, his skin purpled, and there’s a look of consternation, maybe even horror, in his eyes. Then, because I was looking at Hans Silvester’s photos of people from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, I decided to paint his face in a manner similar to the way they paint their faces. They are better artists than I am, and the effect on my painting isn’t nearly as striking as the way they decorate their skin. But I wanted to contrast Jesus’s expression with a symbol of peace, so I painted white crosses onto his cheek.
I hope that this hints at the power of redemption. The cross is an insane symbol for the early Christians to have adopted, since it symbolized torture and suffering and the brutal use of power. But the early Christians understood that everything could be redeemed, without exception. So they set out to redeem an obscenity, the torture instrument that had killed Jesus himself. They claimed it as a symbol of love and peace. Let it serve as a reminder that the suffering we experience as we walk to our own personal crosses can and will be redeemed.