Lenten Meditation #2

Passionszyklus (Judaskuss), Kirche Tenna, GR, um 1408, unbekannter Künstler
Passion of Christ fresco (Kiss of Judas), Kirche Tenna, GR, around 1408, unknown artist

The brotherly kiss, expressed with an obvious intimacy through the eyes. On one side a bystander who turns away. The colourful group of main characters is surrounded by an over-powering group – cold, harassing, threatening.

  • Am I using the friendship and intimacy with others simply to my own selfish advantage?
  • What gives me the motivation to respond violently, even though I have deliberately chosen a path which will lead to peace and understanding?
  • Where do I feel harassed and threatened in life by forces I can not influence, by forces that act quite inconspicuous in the background?
  • How many times have I hurt the most vulnerable of those of whom I feel threatened or harassed?
  • How can I continue to respond to fellow human beings – in the light of obvious disappointments – with unconditional love?

This scene from the passion of Christ fresco in the church of Tenna, Switzerland, depicts how Judas approaches Jesus and greets him with a kiss. Jesus is turned toward him, showing dedication. On the left we see Peter, turning away, who is putting away his sword, after he has cut off the ear of a member of the pressing crowd in the background. Peter defends himself not only with the sword, he seems also to protect himself by pretending not to be one of the main characters. Jesus holds the severed ear in one hand. With his other hand he holds the injured comfortingly around his shoulders. The armoured and armed people harass the group in the foreground. They seem to represent law and order. There is a clear hierarchy – the captain, the soldiers, the servant. They are presented with sharp and scornful glances.

What impressed me in this representation is the expressiveness of the eyes. I see the concern in the eyes of Peter, the unconditional love in the eyes of Jesus, the pain in the eyes of the servant, the hypocrisy in the eyes of Judas, and the contempt and arrogance in the eyes of the soldiers. But the attitude of Jesus seems the most notable to me: He who is betrayed and will be arrested, faces his fate and remains true to his fundamental attitudes.

He sees in Judas, in the servant, and in each of the soldiers a fellow human being. For me, this is an expression of what George Fox has described as “that of God in everyone”, the presence of the divine in everything – even if it seems not always obvious to us. The divine is something that connects – not something divisive. In the picture the divisive is shown in several ways: The severed ear, the sword which separated the ear, but also the attitude of Peter who in the moment does not acknowledge his support for the radical teachings of Jesus, the armour of the soldiers that distinguishes and separates them from the rest of the people, and the attitude of Judas in which the intention and the mode expression do not correlate.

Jesus stands as the central figure: He takes care of the weak and wounded, although he himself is being harassed, betrayed, and threatened. He also does not deviate from his guiding principles. It is easy to be celebrated for good ideas and deeds and to be seen as role model on Palm Sunday; it is much harder to remain true to my own beliefs and actions when they are critically scrutinized and challenged.

Here is the bible text that informed the above painted scene:

Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (Luke 22:47-53)

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

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More meditations based on the ten scenes in the fresco that I will publish (in English and German) throughout the lenten season can be found here: Betrachtungen zur Fastenzeit

Here is an overview of the entire fresco:

(photo credit: Foto-Kunst Andreas Keller, kirchen-online.org)

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