MANILA, Jan. 11, 2015—Non-Catholics might not buy it, but a lay evangelist asserts that no less than the Bible itself has inspired the popular depiction of the revered Black Nazarene.

Devotees attempt to touch the statue of the Black Nazarene during last year's procession. (Photo: CBCPNews)

“The iconography of the Black Nazarene is thoroughly Biblical. No matter what the cause for the dark color of the Nazareno, it is here to stay. There are nevertheless Biblical and theological reasons for the black iconographic depiction of the Nazareno,” notes Dominican lawyer-preacher Marwil N. Llasos in a recent post on the top-rating blog site Know The Truth where he reflects on the phenomenal Filipino Catholic devotion.

Black and beautiful

He shares Scripture considers black beautiful, citing a verse from the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) which reads: “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon” (Song of Songs 1:5, KJV).

According to him, Christ is the final Davidic King spoken of in prophecy as the “fairest of the sons of men” (Ps. 45:2).

‘Suffering Servant’

Llasos stresses the Nazareno’s dark color aptly portrays Christ’s Passion, underscoring the pain the Lord had to bear for the sins of men, embodying as well His prophetic role as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

“Even in our modern idiomatic expression, one who suffers much from being severely beaten is said to be ‘black and blue … He was black and blue all over His body because of the torture and unbearable sufferings He endured during His most sorrowful passion. He was one whole wound, from the crown of His head to the soles of His feet,” he says, adding that Syriac only has one word for black and suffering or sorrow.

‘Man of Sorrows’

Related to Isaiah’s description of Christ as Suffering Servant is of Him as a “Man of Sorrows,” Llasos states.

“Black is the color for mourning. It is also the color for sorrow. Black Madonnas are actually depictions of Mary as the Sorrowful Mother. The black images of Christ, like the Black Nazarene, points to Him as the Man of Sorrows

Isaiah 53:3-4 reads: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

Christ saves all

“The Black Nazarene reminds us that Jesus Christ is the savior of all – not just of those with fair complexion. He is also the Savior of people with dark complexion, those who have been traditionally exploited and treated as mere slaves. God in Jesus Christ loves them – and the salvation offered by God in Christ is also for them. The image of the Black Nazarene resonates with the theology of the Incarnation – that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14),” he explains.

According to the apologist, in Jesus, God “is one of us”, but no single race or culture can exclusively appropriate Him.

“We all can relate to Him. He belongs to us all… The Black Nazarene is a symbol of faith in the Incarnation and Redemption, but one that is an inculturated faith,” he adds.

‘Became sin for us’

While no longer politically correct, Llasos recalls that black used to be associated with sin as suggested by the expression “sin of the blackest hue.”

In the image of the Black Nazarene, a black Jesus carries His cross, driving home the point that “in carrying the cross of our salvation, the Savior bore our own sins”.

1 Peter 2:24 reads: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt. 2:24). It was the sinless Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29).

“Jesus Christ took our place on the cross to save us. He who had no sin became sin for us so that we can be saved. The Pauline teaching is clear: ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21),” Llasos explains. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)