I’ve not been able to get this picture out of my mind. You may have seen it. The man on the left is the pope. The man on the right suffers from a disease that causes tumors to grow inside and outside his body, and affects his eyes and ears and causes extreme pain. Pope Francis touches his tumor-covered neck, embraces the man, and leans over to kiss his head. The two men are probably about the same age, but my breath catches as I stare at the difference in their external appearance — my eyes rivet to the sight of the man’s tumors as he buries his head in the pope’s chest. Napoleon said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This picture speaks a thousand words to my caught heart.
The scene stays with me for many reasons:
- The man’s pain. I’ve never met anyone with his disease. I hurt that He must live in such emotional turmoil and physical misery. How does he deal with the pain the multiplying tumors bring? How does he deal with by-stander’s gasps and stares when he ventures out into public? I hurt for him in this world affected so tragically by the outcome of original sin.
- The pope’s compassion. Someone has probably said that the kiss was a photo-op set up for the press. I don’t know if the man came of his own accord to the pope’s general audience or not. But either way, the photo catches the moment when Pope Francis touches him publicly and he receives a papal blessing. I ask myself: would I so gently touch a man covered with such a skin disease? Or would I, so used to being surrounded by the attractive of this world, shy away instead? Would I remember that this man is a beautiful being, created by God, even though marred by the results of living in our fallen world? In the moment, would I care more for my clean hands or his wounded spirit?
- Jesus and me. The pope is just a man. And I am not marred physically by hundreds of tumors bulging from beneath my skin. The photo, though, speaks a metaphor of profound truth: the most beautiful of us are covered by tumors — tumors of the heart. The picture speaks a thousand words to my tumor-riddled heart — words about Christ’s love for me, a sinful woman. For Jesus cradles my head to His chest — my head, which He should by all rights reject as too blemished and polluted to be in His presence.
Jesus has the right to scorn and reject and turn from me in the crowd of blessing-seekers, but He stops instead. He calls me “daughter” and cherishes me.
He is so much greater than the pope, and my sin scars me so much more deeply than the man’s tumors scar him. When I think on this, I find myself humbled and joyously incredulous. The magnitude of Jesus’ love given to sin-covered people (like you and me) awes. And that leads to the point that has actually most captured my mind.
The main thought I keep having centers around the fact that the photo went viral.
Why would millions and millions of pain-avoiding, beauty-worshiping internet browsers want to gaze upon this photo? I think I might know why. Maybe it’s because the picture strikes a raw, yet deeply-buried nerve. I think the photo brings to life within even the shallowest of hearts the hope humans crave.
The unspoken hope of the millions is this: that I would be as ugly as this man, and someone who represents power and purity, like the pope, would care for me.
That a most-respected-Someone, known to be perfect and clean and honor-worthy, would reach out and pick me from the crowd. That He would love me, accept me, and even cherish my warts in front of others. That He would touch me, and kiss me and allow me to bury my unworthy — yet suddenly turned worthy because of His choice of me — head on his chest. This news would be too good to be true.
This Someone would also see my innermost, hidden fears. He would know that I might pretend otherwise, but that actually I live in fear of rejection. He would know that I cover myself in a self-protective coating, avoiding defenselessness at all costs. He would know that I pretend I don’t need protection from danger. And he would know what I work to hide from others — that I actually often feel:
- He would know that when I dare acknowledge these hidden, stuffed-away thoughts I feel like a fearful, little sheep. A sheep without a good shepherd.
But this Someone would arrive and my hiding would be over. My tumors would be exposed. And He would, in front of the gathered crowd, and for millions to later gawk at on their iProducts, pronounce me lovely.
And not only lovely, but loved. Because of Him — not because of me — I would be in an instant, not only pronounced, but actually made beautiful.
The love of a greater Someone
Do you know the love of this greater Someone? Have you seen Him perimeter the crowd, His eyes resting on you, and heard His pronouncement of peace upon you? Have you fallen before Jesus, telling Him your whole truth, and heard Him call you daughter? (Mark 5:21-34)
He doesn’t only show compassion, Jesus is compassion. He doesn’t only extend gentleness, He is the One who by all rights could send you away in your sin, yet rather invites you — with all your hidden everything — to know and bask in His love. Oh, this day, do not turn from Jesus! This day, rivet your eyes upon Him! Push through whatever crowd you must to get to Him. Fall before Him and receive His forgiveness, His compassion, His eternal, life-giving peace.
“When He (Jesus) saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
“But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace … ‘” (Mark 5:33-34)
You want to be loved in this way! You want (whether you’ve admitted it to yourself or not) to be fully seen through, with all your hidden tumors exposed.
Your greatest desire is actually for this magnificent Someone to pick you from the crowd, pronouncing His undeserved blessing upon your tumor-covered head.
Let nothing stop you this day — go to Him. Do not delay! For Jesus alone, on this day and all days, has the power to grant you true peace.