“On a stormy winter night, thick snow covered the mountains and bitter winds blew through the valleys. The Hermit felt secure in his warm cabin…Suddenly, he heard…bells ringing and…it dawned on him that it was Christmas Eve.”
“‘Oh, Christmas,’ he thought, shrugging. ‘What a myth! Naïve to believe that God came to earth in human form. I believe in God. But I cannot possibly believe that God would take human flesh and bones and be born of a woman. Jesus was a good man who helped people, but I don’t believe that he was God.’ “He poured himself a bowl of soup and began to drink it slowly. As he tried to dismiss the thought that God ever became a man, he heard a tapping noise at his window. He opened the door and peered out. Migrating birds were pecking at the window where the lantern was hanging. The Hermit turned inside again, picked up half a loaf of bread, broke it in small pieces, and spread the crumbs on the snow where the light shone. He left his door open, hoping that the birds might sense the warmth and take refuge within.
“However, the birds at the crumbs and flew off into the darkness. ‘Poor birds,’ he thought. What a pity they could not understand there is warmth and food here…What else could I have done?’
“Suddenly, a thought surfaced in the Hermit’s mind. ‘If I could have become a bird, I could have saved those birds.’ Suddenly, his whole body began to shake. He fell on his knees, hiding his face in his hands. ‘Oh, God! There was no other way you could have shown your love and make us understand who you are except by becoming a human being.’”
That is a summary of “The Hermit,” a story by Father Vincent Pottle, summarized by Peter M. Kalellis in his book The Face of Jesus – An Encounter with the Lord (Paulist Press, 2013).
Left to the imagination, the title “Face of Jesus” could signify a book about many things, including a historical recreation of Jesus’ physical characteristics: was his hair black or brown? His eyes brown or blue? His nose wide or pointy? Did he have dimples, or a gap between his two front teeth?” That, in itself, would make for an interesting book, but that is not what Kalellis has written about here. In fact, he asks, does it really matter what Jesus looked like, physically?
Instead, by “face,” Kalellis means personality. The book is about understanding Jesus’ personality, through 19 chapters, including an interesting one in which he defends Jesus’ “righteous anger.”
Kalellis refers to the classic Biblical example of Jesus’ anger, when, as written in Matthew 21: 12-13, of Jesus angrily overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, and driving them out with a whip.
That anger is not a psychological flaw, Kalellis contends, but rather righteous indignation – a good kind of anger.
On suffering, Kalellis informs that Jesus suffered in order to show us how to deal with our own suffering – so that we will know that God is always with us, and that death can and will be conquered.
There are countless other treasures of information and insight contained in The Face of Jesus, but in speaking with the author, we chose to ask about three in particular: 1) Why didn’t God simply make humans more advanced so they could understand him in his divine nature rather than have to become human to accommodate their limited brains? 2) How can God inflict physical punishment (such as eternal torture in hell) that is considered “cruel and unusual” by our own Constitution, emblematic of an enlightened, civilized society? 3) Why did Jesus have to “die for our sins?” Why such an all-important emphasis on “justice,” and why couldn’t God just give sinners a pass? Also, how can one take the punishment for another?
Though Kalellis did not provide specific elaborations, he pointed out that just because these difficulties may not make sense to our finite minds doesn’t mean they are not perfectly logical based on the ultimate understanding, God’s understanding. He also emphasized that the overriding phenomenon is…faith.