Friday, March 21, 2008

A Tribute to Saint Veronica

For as long as I've known about the Stations of the Cross, I've been rather fond of the sixth station, that of Veronica wiping Jesus blood stained face. I must confess that the attachment was formally more mischievious than anything else - the thing is, I took some perverse pleasure in seeing evangelicals getting into an awful flap about this station because neither this event, nor the person of Veronica is recorded in the gospels. It always seemed to me a fairly absurd argument to suggest that simply because something wasn't recorded in the Bible meant that it didn't happen. If so, then I don't know what to make of the last 1900 years of human history.

As I reflected on the sixth station today, the events were described took on a significance beyond pure mischief. You see, when the whole Veronica story is understood within its historical context, we see this narrative as profoundly subversive. Men and women simply did not congregate in public, let alone share physical contact. Of course, the fact that Jesus is a condemned criminal makes the whole act even more taboo. Furthermore, Jesus bloodied face brings into question all types of questions about the Jewish purity code. By performing this act of grace, Veronica would have been making herself ritually unclean.

So, what do we learn from this story? I'd suggest that it is a story about crossing over barriers. Veronica is crossing offer the cultural barriers to attend to Jesus, who himself made a habit of crossing over barriers and trying to remove those barriers which separated people from God and from each other. It is through the Cross that the barrier between ourselves and God is removed, as well as the barriers separating male and female, slave and free, Jewish and Gentiles. Of course, at the same time we can think about the fact that on a very practical level, Jesus did not let the physical and emotional pain on the way to the Cross prevent him from completing his mission. Surely this is a profound reminder of the love that Jesus had and has for us all?

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