The Passion of the Christ and the Legend of Veronica

When I first saw Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ back in 2004, I was intrigued by the character of Veronica. As Jesus struggles with the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, a young woman approaches him and wipes his face with a cloth. The scene is almost surreal as she walks bravely through the midst of the soldiers to Christ and then back again. As Jesus and the soldiers continue on their way, she stands holding the cloth which seems to bear an imprint of Jesus’ face on it.

I found this a very touching scene, and yet I also remember thinking, “What was that all about? I don’t remember that in the Bible.” Well, three years have passed, and I guess I was never curious enough to do the research myself, but John Mark Reynolds over at The Scriptorium has come to my aid today with a fascinating article called: Women of Holy Week: Veronica and Legends that Capture the Truth.

In the article Reynolds explains the origins of the Veronica legend and even the origin of her name. (Her name, “veron ika” means “very image” and corresponds to the image of Christ’s face on the cloth.) After affirming the historical truth of the gospel accounts and revealing the Veronica account as clearly legend and myth, Reynolds goes on to show how we can still learn something from the Veronica story today.

Now that we are in no danger of confusing the legend with Gospel history perhaps we can learn from it what our spiritual great-great-so-many-more-great-grandparents found true in it.

Veronica can stand for all those real women who would have comforted Jesus.

Her story, like the Cinderella, can function as a myth. I can learn from the story of the Cinderella without believing that she once lived in France. I can learn from this gentle story of a woman who loved Jesus without giving it the historicity I grant the gospels.

The Gospel is a myth that is True in every way, the story of Veronica is a myth that has an important truth.

What can we learn today from Veronica?

Every act of kindness done in His name leaves the image of Christ on the receiver.

Today if you hold your child in Christ’s name, then you are Veronica. When as a teacher help the child in government school for Christ’s sake, you are Veronica. A gift to a charity in the name of the Lord from a checking account already stressed, makes you Veronica.

All over the world the image of Jesus Christ appears in the beautiful and legendary acts of His Veronica’s.

The happy “confusion” of the Middle Ages was between the Image of Christ itself (veron ika) on her napkin and the woman’s name. It was a blessed and meaningful mistake (if it did not reflect a deeper folk wisdom) for the greatest imprint of the Face of the Master is not on the receiver of the good deed or on the tool used . . . it is in the transformation of the person who acts in love.

The sinner who is transformed by grace through a faith that acts begins to wear His Image. She becomes Good, because He is Good. She is made True, because He is True. She is truly Beautiful, because He is Beauty. She is the very image of Christ to a watching world.

Thank you, John, for clearing up my confusion about Veronica. And thank you for leaving me with a new way of picturing what it means to bear Christ’s image as we are transformed ever more into his likeness.

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

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