The Wounded Heart of Jesus and Man’s Spiritual Heart

C. S. Lewis’ claim that Christianity is “the completion, the actualization, the entelechy, of something that has never been wholly absent from the mind of man” could be adjudicated by looking at the core symbols of different religions and then discerning what is unique in Christian symbolism. For example, symbolism of the heart. In the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (10:20, 18:61), it is well attested that God or the Supreme Being resides in the heart. Whether it comes to knowledge-path (Jnana) or devotion-path (Bhakti), it’s by withdrawing mind and senses into this heart-place that God is realized and liberation found (immortality, bliss, peace, etc.). There is no doubt something universal about this in the religious life of man. To find God–permanent, unborn, transcendent, all-pervading–in the seat of intimacy, in the heart-center (hridayam): that is universally attested to be the road to everlasting fulfillment, spiritually-speaking.

When we look to Christianity, then, what is different? Only the symbol of Sacred Heart–the Wounded Heart. This is a heart that expiates for sin, that bleeds to bring life back to man, that exposes itself on the surface of the body (incarnationally)–as if it wished to reach us through the very intensity of its pumping. It is understood theologically as a symbol for God’s own self-sacrifice out of love of humanity, an act of passionate love-suffering meant to reverse and redeem the effects of sin and separation from God. This bleeding heart is God’s initiative, God’s revelation. And thus it is a picture, not so much of a heart-essence pre-existing in every heart, but a new model of heartedness, the ‘new heart’ of flesh God wishes to transplant into our flesh. It promises “eternal life” with God, but it tells us the road to eternal life is the Cross–not a withdrawing of mind and senses inward, not a realization of Oneness, so much as a foolish expenditure of a heart pouring itself out for all, accepting every humiliation and persecution in imitation of Christ’s own love (Jn 13:34).

On the model of the Suffering Life of the Lord, we reach a new limit of spiritual-physical self-sacrifice, a new symbolic depiction of man’s spiritual heart–it is the image of Crucified Love. In Judaism the ultimate love is expressed in one’s willingness to die in defense of the name of God; here it is transferred to the willingness to die for one’s friend, because God himself lays down his life for his friends. In Buddhism, one undertakes enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, and one even puts off final liberation for their sake; but you’d be hard pressed to say that it advocates a going-to-death out of love for the neighbor, or uses such bloody imagery to do so. At any rate, the Christian’s orientation is not limited to alleviating or escaping suffering; it entails rather a request to suffer, a desire to suffer for Jesus’ sake, to have a share in Christ’s own mission of atoning love-suffering on the Cross.

In the three instances alluded to, we can see what drives those who see in Christianity the fulfillment of other religions. It too places all the emphasis on love, on an awakening of the heart. This is the secret hidden point to which the religious imagination of man is always pointing and which God in the fullness of time has revealed. Still, in this revelation, God shows us something–God does something–that man did not expect. Nowhere do we find this so vividly depicted as in the Crucifixion, the pinnacle exposition of God’s sacrifice for sinners. Blood and water spilling from the pierced side of Jesus: here is a fulfillment yet also a radically new destination for man’s spiritual heart.

It would be up to each individual, however, to discern this mysterious difference and believe it–to see it as as a worthy evolution or genuine culmination. After all, one could always look at the Bleeding Heart of Jesus and think it is an aberration on the universal theme, perhaps like the Jews who went away disgusted when Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).

Douts, Man of Sorrows

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