They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s why a cell phone video of an event such as police activity, is so explosive. Seeing a fellow citizen being handled roughly speaks much louder than reading about it. Likewise, seeing pictures of Mother Theresa amongst the poor and suffering of Calcutta has lasting impact beyond the boundaries of religion. The Pulitzer Prize photo in 1972 of a naked 12 year old Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack helped end that war.
Rhetoric is one thing, but a picture of Lech Walesa at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980 defying communism and risking his life and having this image broadcast around the world, helped bring down the Iron Curtain. As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
So, while Jesus’ words were wonderful and inspiring, the visual images of him in action brought home what he was trying to convey verbally. Jesus could have simply told his disciples to prefer one another, but when their teacher stooped to wash their feet, it put in action his teachings.
Overturning the tables of the moneychangers and using a whip to drive them out of the temple left no doubt as to the Master’s thoughts on conducting commerce in the holy place. The King riding a lowly donkey – what a striking contrast – amplified his command to humble yourself.
Imagery is everything. It’s why politicians kiss babies and conduct photo ops. Jesus had saturated the multitudes with soul-searching teaching and preaching. Many were waterlogged.
They were suffering from information overload. Even his closest disciples were somewhat bewildered. To reinforce his teachings, he began doing the things he wanted emulated. Even his death upon the cross was far more powerful than dying of old age would have been. He spoke of sacrifice. He often told others to lay down their lives. He had repeatedly encouraged selflessness in others. But, when he walked the Via Dolorosa humbling himself in complete submission to the will of the Father, the disciples understood what true servitude was. Those in attendance stood in awe. Roman soldiers recognized his deity. And two millennium later all one needs to see is a cross to be reminded of God’s limitless love for humanity. In each of our minds, we have a visual image of the greatest sacrifice ever made.
Jesus walked on water demonstrating the power a spiritual life has over natural elements. The empty tomb, walking through walls into a locked room, feeding the disciples on the seashore – all were quite demonstrative and brought to life many of the perplexing lessons he had tried to convey. His ascension left hope that there is life after death and that we all will one day rise in like manner. Forgiving Judas and refusing Peter’s swordsmanship, no doubt, resonated with his lessons on turning the other cheek.
Mel Gibson’s “Passion Of The Christ” reverberated worldwide with audiences because of the visual imagery of Christ’s final hours. Those hours were hours of action. Praying in a garden until his sweat was as great drops of blood. This did far more than any teaching on prayer could have accomplished. Bearing his own cross. Saying from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These were more than empty words. These were actions from a man of “sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
The words, the lessons, the teachings, the lengthy days of discourse all came into focus as the Messiah emphatically ended his ministry with a demonstration of what he desired in others. At the last supper, after he had washed their feet, he told the twelve in attendance that he had left them an example. Earlier, he had broken the bread and instituted the communion and said the bread was his body and the wine was his blood. All this helped those who would be church fathers understand more clearly what Christ’s ministry was all about. It is believed that when Peter’s time for martyrdom came, his imagery of his Master’s sufferings were so much a part of his life that he requested to be crucified upside down, believing that he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord. He did this, not because of what he had heard, but because of what he had seen.
Yes, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. And the imagery of the life of Christians around me has left an indelible imprint upon my life. As a young Christian, in my mind I see my Dad’s early morning prayers, where he petitions God on the behalf of myself and others. No matter how early I rise my Dad is already in our living room, alone, on his knees talking to God. That’s what I will always remember of him. Why does he do that? Because as a child he saw his Dad on his knees as his last act of the day. No matter how tired his father was, he never failed to kneel and pray before he went to bed. It deeply affected my Dad and he has continued this tradition. Dad is a man of prayer and a man of faith. He rarely lectures us on it, but, in his own way, he reminds us in a far more powerful way than any amount of preaching to us could ever do. It is his legacy and it is forever etched into my mind.