Monday, October 8, 2007
Guru Jesus and his fiery sermon.
d. Teacher (Part of a series of pictures on the Sermon on the Mount. 1985. Collection of the Missions Prokura sj. Nuerenberg.)
In 1985 Jyoti prepared (for Missio in Germany) a series of 16 paintings on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) depicting ways in which ‘Jesus Speaks’, with a subtitle: ‘...to the Children of the Earth’. Gandhi had been captivated by these teachings of Jesus, claiming they had made a crucial impact on his own ethical and spiritual development.
Jyoti writes: 1986 was the year that Fr Lederle died (tragically, while swimming on the western coast). It was he who had suggested that I work on this theme, as the Sermon on the Mount was particularly important for a group of Hindus who gave great significance to the figure of Jesus in their reform movements. A number of Indian theologians too had drawn attention to the ‘Sermon’: Francis D’Sa (in the German churches’ Kirchentag) gave an ecological interpretation of the Beatitudes; George Soares saw the Sermon as the dharma of Jesus; Samuel Ryan movingly identified the anawim, the ‘poor’ of the earth, those whom Jesus called the ‘blessed’, as the Dalit people. And it was in this Sermon series, seeing the Shepherd as one of the anawim, that I painted my first version of the Shepherd picture (just looked at).
Three of this series depict Jesus in what Indians recognise as typical teaching pose: sitting in lotus-like posture, one hand raised in the gesture (mudra) which shows that new insight is being imparted.
Several pictures relate to fire. This recalls the famous ‘Fire Sermon’ of the Buddha - when he describes the whole world, all our senses, the objects to which we become wrongly attached with our senses, and our deluded experience resulting from such false attachments, all aflame with fire.
The picture we see here shows Jesus surrounded by flame-like figures, leaping in ecstasy. They are also the fire-like blossoms that fall from a Flame-of-the-Forest tree. So brilliant at the time of the pre-monsoon showers, one of these is prominent in Jyoti’s garden. For several weeks of the year, the brilliant colours of this Flame-tree are what Jyoti first looks at each day, often too forming a brilliant carpet underfoot.
While the flaming look recalls the Shepherd picture, here it is not just the countryside, but those who turn to Jesus and are touched by his words, who are aflame. And their flame-like dancing is impelled by the fire of love. Another picture (not shown here) in the same series depicts the presence and the word of this Guru-Teacher as imparting life-giving water. Even his followers - women especially - seem to be a flowing part of the earth-enlivening water.
The final picture in the ‘Jesus Speaks’ series is of the three travellers on the way to Emmaus. Surrounded by rocks, with a solid rocky mound and a dark sky behind them, it is the intimacy of the three figures that impresses. They form a closely-grouped mandala, a circular form frequently found in Jyoti’s art. Jesus is the saffron-robed central figure. The heads of the others bend lovingly towards him. As we see below, they did not even know that this fellow-traveller was their beloved master. Already, though, his words, his charisma, have captivated them. Their hands, even the folds of their robes, link them inextricably to him. One hand of Jesus, though, remains aloft, perhaps in blessing, perhaps as a mark of his continuing role as Teacher.
The Emmaus story (Luke 24) lays great stress on the crucial role of the risen Jesus in expounding and explaining the meaning of the events that had so bewildered his followers. Through their encounters with his mysteriously risen presence they realised there had not been a victory of evil over good, as feared earlier. They can live on with growing hope, faith, love. So the story, and this picture, is about the human story as much as, or because, it is about the Jesus-story. (Note on one side of the picture what is far from a rare sight in India’s Deccan country: a rock is split, pierced by a root that amazingly becomes a tree forcing its way up to the sky).
Indian devotion to Jesus has been far wider than the devotion of those known as ‘Christians’ in India. During the 19th century the Jesus-story attracted many more Hindus than did the lives of those western ‘Christians’ claiming great superiority for themselves as much as for their God. According to Hindu standards, most of them showed little evidence of either moral or spiritual qualities. For some Hindus, therefore - from Ram Mohan Roy early in the 19th century, to M. K. Gandhi up to the mid-20th century - it was the outstanding quality of the moral teaching of Jesus that attracted.
For many more Hindus, though, Jesus was seen as Guru. And the Guru may begin as ‘teacher’, but one whose personal charisma and spiritual potency - in the case of Jesus especially seen in his self-giving acts of healing and eventual dying - draw us nearer to God and even mediate the very character and being of God. The Guru then becomes far more than ‘just a teacher’; the Guru somehow shares the life of God, within himself and with his disciples. In such a context no one can speak of Jesus as ‘just a teacher’; such a Teacher, even with his Word, and imparting his Way, mediates the inner life of God.