Meaning of the Image of the Merciful Jesus

The painting, based on Sister Faustina’s visions, has many symbolic meanings.

Painting by Eugenijus Kazimierovskis in 1934

I asked Jesus whether the inscription could be: “Christ, King of Mercy.” He answered: “I am King of Mercy.” (Diary, 88)

The painting which is created based on Sister Faustina’s visions has many symbolic meanings. Jesus himself explained the meaning of each detail of this painting to Faustina on several occasions. Summarizing what the image of Merciful Jesus should be like, Father Michael Sopocko wrote: “The right hand should be raised to the shoulder level to bless, and the left hand should touch the garment in the heart area. Two rays must come from under the folded garment – whitish, pale on the right side of the viewer, and red on the left. Those rays must be transparent but properly illuminate the figure of the Savior and the space before Him.”

The mystery of Divine Mercy is deeply connected and extends and further unfolds the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as its iconography. The tradition of depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus experienced its widest spread in the first half of the 20th century, when devotion to the Heart of Jesus had reached its peak. On 1st of July 1934, just when the painting of the Merciful Jesus was being completed in the workshop of E. Kazimirowski, all of Lithuania was solemnly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At that time, the entire Church widely celebrated the 1900th anniversary of the death of Jesus, the so-called Jubilee of the Heart of Jesus, which was concluded in 1935 during Easter, exactly when the painting of the Merciful Jesus was hung for the first time at the Gates of Dawn. Moreover, the painting itself was painted in the artist’s workshop on Rasų street, located next to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sisters of Visitation monastery. St. Mary Margaret Alacoque, the initiator of the cult of the Heart of Jesus in the 17th century, was a sister of this monastery in France.

In Faustina’s “Diary”, the often-emerging Heart of Jesus is titled the source of mercy: “These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross” (Diary, 299). And about the rays, the Savior said: “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls (…) These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him” (Diary, 299).

The blessed Father Michael Sopocko, who deeply strived to understand the knowledge of Faustina’s Revelations and to evaluate the authenticity of the visions, held it very important to find confirmations in the Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom already in the 4th century associated the streams bursting from the heart of Jesus with the sacraments: “Water and blood symbolize Baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments, the Church is born: from Baptism, the purification by water, giving revival and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist.” In similar words, M. Sopocko explained the meaning of these rays several times, adding also the sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation): “They are the symbol of the Church (…) This blood and this water flow continuously in the Church as graces that cleanse the soul through the sacraments of Baptism and Repentance and enliven it by the sacrament of the Eucharist, and their author is the Holy Spirit sent by the Savior.”

The Lord’s desire for this image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Holy Easter (or the second Sunday of Easter) is very meaningful. The theme of this image is indeed closely related to the liturgy of this Sunday. The Church then reads the Gospel of John about the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the apostles and the establishment of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (John 20:19-29). The painting depicts the resurrected Savior, who is bringing peace to people, forgiving sins at the cost of His suffering and death on the cross. The rays of blood and water, emanating from the Heart, pierced by a lance, as well as the wounds left by the crucifixion, remind us of the events of Good Friday. And in the face of Jesus, we can easily see the features of the Shroud of Turin. The image of the Merciful Jesus presents these two Evangelical events, which speak most clearly about God’s love for man.

Other details of the painting are also very eloquent. “Jesus must look as if He is walking, as if a man is stopping to greet somebody…” Jesus comes barefoot and humble as a slave, He first seeks a man, He first speaks, reaches out. He longs to meet a man. The ubiquitous rays that soften the hearts of people are also reminiscent of the Tent of Meeting. “The eyes must be slightly lowered, and the gaze merciful, as if looking from the cross”. It is not common to see such an image of Jesus. Why does Jesus ask to be depicted this way? He does not want His attentive gaze to be directed at the suffering, sin-ridden man, like an angry judge. It’s the same way that He behaves with the caught adulteress (Luke 7:36-50). Lowering His eyes, He writes on the sand her sentence, which will scatter when the wind blows. He longs for forgiveness to man and his change. The hand of Jesus in the painting is raised in blessing, as if offering absolution of sins. And then in His gaze, one can read Divine Mercy. The background of this canvas is dark, almost black. The only light comes from Jesus Himself. Why? Because Jesus is the light that illuminates and leads man in this world of darkness. If we remove Jesus from the picture, as well as from human life, only darkness will remain. The Lord says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12)

Father M. Sopocko also questioned Sister Faustina about the title and inscription of this image. He wanted to change the inscription “Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary, 47) to “Christ, the King of Mercy”. When Faustina asked about the title and inscription of the picture, the Savior said, “I am King of Mercy” (Diary, 88), yet He repeated the words He had told in the first vision: “I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You.” (Diary, 327) Jesus has repeatedly shown Faustina how painful it is for Him that people trust Him too little. Trust means a person’s attitude towards God, when humbly, with the support of faith, God’s favour is awaited, while at the same time His holy will is carried out. This unconditional trust is the basis of the path to the Divine Mercy.