The painting is titled, “Calvary,” and it’s a dramatic depiction of what appears to be a heroin addict shooting up Jesus with the drug. The addict uses a syringe to stick a needle into what looks like the arm of Jesus, who is standing behind him with an expression of agony.
The painting, a work of Christian artist Stephen Sawyer, is going viral.
“Naming a painting has a lot of value – trying to come up with a name that honors the story you’re trying to tell,” Sawyer told CBN News. “And Calvary… it’s a pain that we associate with not only great sorrow but great victory.”
“We know that Jesus said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you,’ which means the temple is not a facade that you walk to; the temple is the human body,” he went on to say. “And it houses if we allow it – we can create a magnificent home for the Presence of God in our lives.”
“And so in the painting what you see at first glance – some people see the junkie shooting up; some people see the junkie shooting up in Jesus’ arm,” Sawyer continued. “But the truth is, I was trying to demonstrate the fact that, God does live inside us, and those two arms are the same arm.”
“And if you look at it you see that it is Jesus’ arm, and it’s also the junkie’s arm,” he said.
Sawyer went on to say that with all the prints of the painting, he chose to use the Scripture, “When you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.”
“Because normally we take that Scripture to mean, ‘When I was thirsty, you gave me water. When I needed clothes, you clothed me. When I was hungry, you fed me,'” he elaborated. “But these kinds of truths are universally spherical.”
“No matter which way you look at it, it holds truth, which means when you hurt yourself, you also hurt God,” Sawyer continued.
“In a way, when people abuse their bodies… so when we abuse that precious part, and the temple is defiled, to me it wasn’t a long stretch just to think it’s kind of like another crucifixion because we’re hurting the Presence of God in our life,” he explained.
“And it just seemed like a natural thing to name my painting, “Calvary,” Sawyer said.
The artist shared with CBN News that the model for the addict in the painting is a former user who is now clean and serving and helping others who have been “damaged” by drugs.
Paula Berry Butler shared the painting on Facebook. In her post, she writes that she saw the artwork in the window of a shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a tourist town in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Sawyer owns the store, which is called, “Art for God”.
“I was shocked but it gave me the chills,” Butler wrote. “My friend Garry & I thought it should be hung in every rehab center, jail and hospital E.R.”
Butler ventured into the shop and said a young female employee started up a conversation with her. She wrote that the woman told her she was a recovering addict and was grateful for the job.
“We asked if her family supports her now…she said no, they are ALL addicts,” Butler continued. “She found her 23-year-old sister dead on a park bench, needle still in her arm.”
“I told her I was sorry & mentioned I had lost my daughter when she was 29,” Butler wrote. “At this point I have tears in my eyes and so did she. She comes over and gives me the biggest hug.”
“She asked if I noticed there are only 3 arms in the painting and I said yes,” the post continued. “She said at this point the addict isn’t feeling any pain but it hurts Jesus when we hurt ourselves.”
CBN News reached out to Butler for comment. She had not yet responded to our inquiry at the time of publication.
Sawyer said he believes God called him to paint the painting.
“We even have testimonies of people in prisons and jails… the painting, God used it as a catalyst, and people have stopped cold turkey – permanently,” the artist shared.
Sawyer told CBN News the painting has gone viral a few times, and he believes millions have seen it.
“It’s gone around the world since 2006 multiple times,” he said.