by Karen Craigo

There is a huge, illuminated print of Jesus on the wall of the guest room where my family of four sleeps at my mother-in-law’s house.

My mother-in-law is Catholic, and depictions of Jesus hang or stand in every room. They often show the Savior in his last moments—anguished, nearly dead—and while my sons have been thoroughly exposed to the Gospel, they aren’t accustomed to seeing Jesus like this. As Lutherans in the U.S., they are more used to seeing the plain cross hanging in church, and I can tell it haunts them to see the body of Christ in agony.

But in the guest room, Jesus is pictured as a shepherd. He holds a baby lamb and is followed by a dozen grown sheep as he walks barefoot on a hillside. His face as he looks down on the sheep is suffused with compassion and care.

I was putting my three-year-old to sleep one night during our most recent visit, and in the darkened room, we lay together and stared up at the image.

“I wonder what he’s thinking?” I asked my son.

“He just loves sheeps,” he replied, and I could hear the shrug in his voice. It’s obvious to him that Jesus would love something so soft and innocent—just as Jesus loves him.

I snapped a flashless photo with my phone that night. It turned out unfocused in the darkened room, but I look at it from time to time—this Savior who just loves “sheeps.” He has a hooked staff that my son believes is a candy cane, and he is on a worn path. My son and I have speculated about where he might be coming from, as well as where he’s going.

We have devoted quite a bit of thought to the scene. My son says he lives right over the hill, and he has posited that he is going to the store to buy milk, or that he intends to play with his friends. I know he’s picturing Legos—Jesus cross-legged on the ground, with his robes encircling him, but tucked out of the way so he can build what my kid calls “hotels,” large rooms where mini-figures talk and wait for something.

That Jesus would enjoy making the things my son makes is just obvious to my little one—and I can just imagine the thought that this compassionate man would put into his hotels, comfortable places for people to sit, alcoves where they can be alone in thought, maybe an outdoor garden where they might look at the night sky.

One thing that worries my son is the fact that Jesus doesn’t have shoes. I know there is no chance he could step on a broken bottle, but I have heard how rocky the biblical lands are, and even those well-callused feet would surely have encountered a small, sharp thing with the capacity to cause them terrific pain. The more I think about it, the more worried I get, too. If the images in the other rooms of the house have taught us anything, it’s that the Son of God can experience pain—and that he can bleed.

“He must walk that path a lot, if his house is right there,” I say. “I’ll bet he knows where all the stones are.”

If his eye is on the sparrow, he must be mindful of the sharp rocks—just as he must have been mindful of those who would hurt and even kill him. It’s impossible to think about, but looking at this picture, I know I must.

Images of Christ

I have read that Martin Luther had no objections to the crucifix. In his 1525 work Against the Heavenly Prophets, he writes, “[W]hen I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it.” He adds, “If it is not a sin but good to have an image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?”

Of course, until his excommunication, Luther himself was a lifelong Catholic, from 1483 to 1521, and the images from his church were dear to him. But during the Reformation, some wanted to put distance between Protestants and Catholics, and they saw the elimination of the crucifix image as one way to separate the faiths. This is exactly what happened later in the United States, where Lutherans were influenced by Calvinists to abandon the image of the cross bearing the body of Christ. In European Lutheran churches, crucifixes remain common.

But they are not common to my sons, and I admit this reflects an aspect of my own faith life. So far, I have chosen not to focus on the end of Jesus’ life and ministry, nor on his profound suffering; this, to me, is significant and must be remembered, but it is not the primary focus of who Jesus is. In my discussions with my sons, I focus on Jesus’ loving example—how he refused to stone the unfaithful woman, how he honored the offerings of the poor widow, how he showed love and grace to the woman, outcast and bleeding for over a decade, who only wanted to get close enough to touch his dusty hem.

Karen Craigo is the author of two poetry collections, No More Milk and the forthcoming Passing Through Humansville. She maintains a daily blog on writing and creativity called Better View of the Moon, and she teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.