They call him the powerless Jesus. The statue in Sant’Egidio, a 16th century church in Rome is very old. Age and circumstances have left this Jesus without his cross… and without arms. All we can see is his beaten body, the pain on his face and in his eyes. He is dying, tortured and crucified. The sacrifice of sacrifices, the moment Jesus, the human was at his weakest, most fragile, most powerless. The moment when he was nothing more than a body, broken by ignorance, fear, lies and betrayal.
For some reason this statue touches me more than the average statue of the crucified Christ. Jesus on the cross always makes me sad, yes, but it also always makes me proud, makes me smile. This man sacrificed his life for me because he couldn’t help but love me, you, us so much. It is this unconditional love, the compassion for those who hurt him, the forgiveness for those who killed him that touches me, that makes me proud to be one of those beloveds.
The arms, outstretched and nailed to cross are for me the ultimate symbol of Christ’s love, the never-ending embrace, the eternal invitation to come and simply be accepted as we are. This was, this is what makes Jesus, the human man, so powerful: His ability to love, his ability for compassion and forgiveness.
To see this statue without the eternal embrace makes me sad because all I see is the suffering, the broken and dying man. The triumph that Jesus showed the world even while he was dying, is lost. Because, no, the victory of Christ is not in the resurrection alone. It is in the ability to see beyond betrayal, beyond fear, beyond pain in himself and others, deep into the human soul and love it as kindred, as eternally good, despite everything else. Seeing this statue without this perfect symbol of love hurts me.
Yet the church in Rome in which this statue can be seen to this day doesn’t have it repaired, nor does it remove it from the public’s eye. Quite the opposite: the “powerless Jesus” is displayed on a very prominent spot to make sure that every visitor comes across it. I wondered why. I asked why. Here is what I’ve been told:
“The ‘powerless Jesus’ is still an invitation. Maybe even a more powerful invitation than the repaired statue could ever be. He invites us all to help him. Jesus invites us to be his arms. He invites us to offer the never-ending embrace, the eternal invitation to those around us. To those we love and to those we fear alike. To those who wish us well and to those who want to harm us. He did not die so we can feel safe in the eternal embrace of our heavenly Father. He did not die so we can stay in passivity. He died to show us what a human being is capable of: To actively offer love even when it is rejected, ridiculed and threatened. This is why the ‘powerless Jesus’ is so important to us. Because it reminds us that We Are His Arms in this world.”