Images of Jesus

19 Apr

 For my class next week, I have been preparing a short Keynote presentation of a number of paintings of Jesus. I will also use at least one song to help present a series of images of Jesus, to try to help students recognize how much our cultural context shapes how we imagine Jesus.
This is easy to do visually, simply by presenting various Asian, African or Latino paintings of Jesus, as well as those from specific eras in western history, such as the medieval period.
Another basic question is how we think of Jesus, in terms of which stories or actions we think of, pre-reflectively. I suspect that a very large proportion of Christians (and most others who have heard the story of Jesus, too) basically think of Jesus as dying or dead. The cross is the basic image and this is more than appropriate. But it is also crucial to see the cross in terms of Jesus' life and without his life and mission, it does not make sense. Nor should we separate the cross from his destiny, his resurrection. In that sense, it is crucial that we think of Jesus not only as dying, but as living; not only as past but also as present, and indeed future. 

While searching through many sources, I found one superb painting by a Jesuit father, Jim Hasse SJ, with a poem attached. Here it is. It is for me simply a wonderful piece to reflect upon.

A Man Crucifixion

Before Pilate’s injustice 

Before Herod’s mockery 

Over Satan’s deceptions

Of thief and executioners

For weeping women 

For his mother 

To his Father’s will.

6 thoughts on “Images of Jesus

  1. There is certainly now a greater diversity of images of Jesus reflecting different cultures and historical periods than the uniform aryan portrait of my childhood.Still the great majority of images of Jesus are either as an adult or newborn, and so rarely at any stage of childhood or adolescence. I realise this reflects the portraits of the gospels. Is there validity in images of Jesus as a growing child or adolescent, or is this beyond the scope of the gospels’ prompts? Your invitation for us to think about Jesus living (not only dying or dead) exercises my imagination a great deal. A living Jesus is a growing Jesus. In what sense can this be?

  2. Hi Frank. I have a rather large collection of image of Jesus that I have collected over the years on my lap top. If they are of use to you, I could post them across. Likewise I did a DVD reflection on images of Jesus for worship on Good Friday – you are welcome to that if you’d like. Grace and Peace.

  3. Thanks for these comments, Beth and Simon. It’s good to hear from you.
    Beth, I agree that our depictions of Jesus are so limited. As you say, we picture him either as a newborn, or adult, and as I wrote, mostly the latter is of him dying.
    We need a much wider array of images to help us recognize the full and real humanity of Jesus. So I think we need to think of and see him playing, up a tree, swimming in the local pond, or drinking a fizzy drink with mates. Would we ever imagine Mary or Joseph changing his nappy? The adolescent Jesus, cutting timber in Joseph’s workshop, or hanging out with a few mates, and perhaps a few girls too: these images may need to be culturally interpreted, historically. But they would help us to have a sense of the real person, as you say growing, and sharing the reality of our lives.
    There’s more to this: first, there is the challenge of whether we think Jesus really had to grow and learn. I wrote about this some time ago: lots of people find the learning bit hard … Then, too, there is the question of whether we find it helpful, and if so why, to focus on the real humanity of Jesus. Why is this significant for us, and why is it not for some others of us? Lots of interesting issues there.

  4. Simon, I am grateful for the offer. Yes, I would really enjoy seeing your DVD. Is it too large a file to send electronically? Otherwise, maybe yes, snail mail please ….
    I appreciate the contributions.

  5. …yes it’s a valuable human-Jesus question, but also I ask – is the aspect of growing appropriate in our vision of God. When Moltmann speaks of the openness of God in terms of future, I wonder if it can connect with the qualities of growing that we understand to be a criterion of ‘living’?

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