If you ask people whether they think Jesus was tall or short, they say tall. If you ask people whether he was handsome or ugly, they say handsome. What about slim or overweight? Most people would say slim. The thing is we find it hard – perhaps even sacrilegious - to imagine Jesus as short, ugly and/or overweight.
We imagine that, as a human being, Jesus must have been a perfect specimen.
But was he?
That is a question to which we will never have an answer for sure – as no one ever did even the roughest sketch of Jesus. Or, at least, no such drawing has ever been found.
In some ways, this may be a good thing – as it enables us each to imagine Jesus as being something like ourselves.
In the 5th century we have the earliest depictions of Christ – by Greek artists who showed him as young, fair-haired and beardless – looking something like the Roman god, Apollo, the god of truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light.
Western artists in recent centuries have given Jesus a beard but kept to the fair-haired handsome image. Only more recently do we see artists depicting Jesus in more diverse ways - from a short haired Palestinian, to African, to Korean and even to being female.
It’s exciting to see these images and they are welcome. As Jesus lived and died for all humanity and calls each one of us – in all our diversity – to be one in him.
But, nonetheless, none of these images depict Jesus as being ugly or imperfect.
Apparently in the Middle Ages, there was a tradition that believed Jesus may have been a hunchback or may have had leprosy. And it’s possible that he did. But this tradition seems to have completely disappeared.
Great humanitarian workers, like Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier, have said how they saw Jesus in the most ugly and deformed human beings. So maybe this is how we should see Jesus too?
Jesus was 'as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised'
After all, the closest thing we have to a biblical portrait of Jesus is the description in Isaiah, which points forward to Christ, the suffering servant. And here is the portrait Isaiah paints:
‘Just as there were many who were astonished at him —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals… He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.’