Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ecce Homo; "Beast Jesus"

Yesterday afternoon I was driving home from doing a service with the little congregation of faithful Anglicans in Georgetown PEI and was able to listen to CBC Tapestry.  This is a wonderful CBC program on religion and spirituality which I don’t listen to often enough—basically because I am not mindful enough about it. 

Yesterday’s program didn’t disappoint me.  It was on the subject of the “Beast Jesus”.  If you aren’t aware of this phenomenon, as I wasn’t, it involves an early 20th century fresco in a church in Borja Spain.  An attempt to restore the painting in 2012 by, an 83-year-old widow and amateur painter Cecilia Giménez had disastrous results—at least that was the initial assessment of the work.  The well-intentioned effort turned out to be less than intended and the result was, shall we say, interesting.  The restored face of Jesus has a definite animal or bestial appearance.  I have copied a before and after picture of the fresco from the Tapestry website.

The “restoration” was halted when the church officials saw what was happening to the work.  However, as you may have guessed that is not the end of the story.  The fresco has become something of a sensation and has attracted many curious people.  It has apparently become a significant tourist attraction and has revitalized the economy of the small town of Borja, Spain. 

The subject of the work is Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), a depiction of the Jesus presented to the    crowd by Pontius Pilate after the scourging (John 19:5) shortly before his crucifixion.   It is an interesting case of intentional fallacy—the literary criticism which addresses the issue that often the intention of the author or artist is not the most important meaning.  In this case the intention of the restorer was to restore the work to its original glory.  However, something unintended was created with unintended results.  The results are interesting in a number of ways.  First the popularity has had apparently positive economic results for the town.  In addition, a comic opera is in the works, which was the subject of the Tapestry program. The intention is to have the world premiere in Borja and an annual performance thereafter which will help the positive impact on the town to continue. 
There is also another unintended consequence which I find as interesting.  As pointed out in the CBC program the impact of the new image of Jesus is more dramatic than the original.  As can be seen in the pictures below, the original face of Jesus has the eyes looking up to heaven.  The new face of Jesus is looking at the viewer with the eyes engaging the viewer eyes.  In the view of the interviewee on Tapestry, the librettists of the opera, the eyes on Jesus seem to be asking, “What is it that you are doing in world”.  To that I could add, “What are you doing to follow me”.  

That is where the subject connected to me yesterday.  My sermon took the passage from Luke 7: 11-17 in which Jesus raises the widow’s son from the dead in the town of Nain (a copy is attached).  I compare this to the miracle he performs and casts out the unclean spirit “Legion” in the country of the Gerasenes (Luke: 26-38).  In the case of both miracles the reaction of the crowd is to be afraid; however their response in very different.  In the case of the people in Nain, they praise God for sending them a great prophet.  In the case of the Gerasenes, they, in effect, run him out of town on a rail.  They were afraid because the people knew that Jesus could change their lives in radical ways—a valuable herd of swine were destroyed in the town of the Gerasenes.  If we take Jesus seriously we are going to be faced with Jesus asking us what are we doing in the world?  Are we going to run him out of town or are we going to rejoice that God has sent us a Saviour and Messiah.  If take Jesus seriously our lives will be changed radically and we know what happens to radicals in our society; It is often not pleasant.  

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