Posts Tagged ‘Andres Serrano’

A cause for offense?

August 25, 2018

Pentecost 14 – 2018

John 6:58-69

(Notes while on leave).

Marian Free

In the name of God who is disconcerting, challenging and confronting. Amen.

Speaking to a journalist from The Huffington Post about his work ‘Piss Christ’ the artist Andres Serrano stated: “The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if “Piss Christ” upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning. There was a time prior to the 17th century when the only important art, the only art that mattered, was religious art. After that, there were very few contemporary art pieces that were considered both art and religious, and “Piss Christ” is one of them.”

When the photograph ‘Piss Christ’ was displayed in Melbourne it was greeted with horror by members of conservative Christian groups who demanded that it be removed from the exhibit because it was disrespectful and offensive to the Christian faith. Even though Serrano is a Christian and even though the work was intended to make a powerful statement about the Christian faith, the protesters could not be appeased.

It is not the first time (and will not be the last) that theatre, literature or art has offended the sensibilities of good Christian folks. For example the musical Jesus Christ Superstar drew crowds of protesters when it was first performed in Brisbane for example.

Of course, the protesters believe that they are defending the Christian faith against attack, protecting it’s purity and it’s innocence. From their vantage point any story except their own is misleading and heretical and any presentation of Christ that dares to critique the domestication of the Gospel is seen as disrespectful and offensive. Those who are sensitive to the ‘offense’ believe that it is their task to defend the faith, to protect the image/the reputation of God.

From my vantage point there are two problems inherent in this way of thinking and behaving. The first is the presumption that God needs human beings to protect God’s reputation and the second is that this who are so offended seem to have forgotten how offensive and scandalous Jesus was. The Greek word ‘σκανδάλων’ (to scandalize, to cause offense) is used of Jesus on more than one occasion. Far from trying to maintain or conform to the status, Jesus appears to be constantly causing offense to the good religious people of the time. Jesus offends the Pharisees by breaking the Sabbath, eating with tax-collectors and, most seriously, by claiming to be one with God. His behavior is so scandalous that those who associate with him are threatened with expulsion from the synagogue and those who are so offended plot to kill him.

Scandal is at the heart of today’s gospel. Crowds, including the Pharisees and disciples, have been captivated by the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. They have been happy to have been caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowds that follow Jesus. However, as Jesus expounds on the meaning of the bread, as he reinterprets traditional views and challenges the crowds to have faith, their enthusiasm wanes. Following Jesus, they realise, will take effort on their part. It will require a depth of understanding and a willingness to change and grow. Many are not ready for this kind of commitment. They are not willing to challenge their cherished belief systems or to expose them to the scrutiny of a new teaching, a new day. Even the disciples complain that the teaching is difficult and many of them abandon Jesus.

The photograph ‘Piss Christ’ challenges all of us to consider how we have domesticated Jesus, to recognize the ways in which we have removed the scandal and the offense of the cross.

We follow a crucified Christ, a man who was condemned to death and executed as a common criminal, who scandalized the religious authorities and even his own followers, who was anything but a comfortable conformist.

The question we should be asking is not whether something offends us, but – whether by our godliness, our lifestyle, our passion for justice, our concern for the marginalized our tolerance and compassion – we are a source of offense to those around us.


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