Lenten Meditation #6

Passionszyklus (vor Pontius Pilatus), Kirche Tenna, GR, um 1408, unbekannter Künstler
Passion of Christ fresco (Jesus vor Pontius Pilatus), Kirche Tenna, GR, around 1408, unknown artist

An injured and slightly bent man is being presented. The authorities, visibly marked by their distinct headdress and their armoured entourage, look slightly puzzeled. What is the meaning of the finger play of these figures? There are big differences between the three “crowned” characters in this picture. The injured person does not seem completely isolated: The hand on his shoulder indicates a sign of humaneness.

  • How far do I let myself get involved in power plays (within the family, at work, in society) und thus forget that I will hurt others?
  • What is the attraction to act like the others, to follow the fashions, even though I might be aware that such prescriptions do not comply with my inner values and do not serve the common good?
  • How far am I aware of my uniqueness, which would enable me to weather the external storms, the injuries, the threats – because I know that I am being carried by different forces?

This scene from the passion of Christ fresco in the church of Tenna, Switzerland, depicts how Jesus is delivered by the religious authorities to the representatives of the political power. Historically, we know that the Jewish people were ruled by the Romans in Jesus’ time. But here we find an act of collaboration: It seems like a common enemy makes it feasible for the oppressors and the oppressed to arrange themselves. The artist expresses this nicely through the hand gestures: There is a synchronicity, indicating an harmonious relationship.

Unfortunately, other details in this panel have been lost over the centuries. In previous panels, the eyes of the characters have been shown with strong expression; here they look faded or even altered through human intervention in a way that most of the faces remain with little expression. Or, is it to show a level of indifference?

Individualism is a central dogma in this world. Everything is set up so that everyone can express him or herself as an autonomous individual. This often leads to a narcissistic self expression. People seem to forget that they have little significance in the universe all by themselves. With an overinflated ego, we easily become toys for external, worldly powers.

It is clear to me that I am a unique human being. Every other human being has the very same characteristic. As such, I am a small particles within a higher organism. I am alive because I am part of the whole. The whole is only whole, because all the parts are present and alive. I have previously written about this topic in the article about the significance of the insignificance of self.

This interconnectedness gives me the duty and the ability to critically examine my being in this world. Thus I can avoid being drawn into unholy alliances and activities that are not life-affirming. Just like Jesus  – without big words and with all our injuries – could I stand as witness for a different way of relating to our fellow human beings and the whole creation.

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

Jesus Delivered to Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)

Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council —met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

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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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