Friday, December 11, 2015

The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname (Nicaragua; part 4)

The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname


My final post about the parable interpretations by the peasants of Solentiname:

After Somoza was overthrown, some of the surviving the surviving peasants returned to Solentiname to rebuild the community and also the artists’ colony. José Arana, for example, painted his own interpretation of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable (The Rich Epicure and Poor Lazarus). 

The image of the painting will appear in the book, but since it is under copyright and no other images (that I can find) exist on the internet, I do not include it here. I thank Father Ernesto Cardenal (via Hermann Schulz) both for the digital image and for the permission to use it in my book.

In Arana's painting of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man sits at his table, which is covered by a white tablecloth and abundant food and drink. There is more than enough to share, but the man sits alone. He is dressed in nice jeans, with a shirt and vest, and his hair is neatly trimmed. The room is brightly painted in purple, orange, and yellow, but the interior does not contain much furniture: his table and chair, a stand with a vase of flowers on it, and a pew-like bench with a small rug in front of it. Tellingly, a book appears on the bench, most likely the unopened Bible, which this rich man ignores in practice.

Two windows and one door are open, revealing lush surroundings and a beautiful day. Through the window on the left, a bird is visible in the distance, perhaps a reminder of how Jesus urged his listeners to “consider the birds of the air” and not worry about what they will eat and drink (Matt. 6:25-26).

Lazarus stands, not lies, just inside the door, not outside the gate. The rich man looks straight at him; he can definitely see him and observe his misery. Lazarus is dressed in cutoff jeans and a ripped t-shirt. His hair is long and unkempt; bleeding sores are visible in numerous places—they cover his face, arm, legs, and feet—and he wears rag bandages on his left arm and ankle. A dog stands before him, starting to lick his sores, thereby giving him the attention the rich man does not. By painting the two men in this fashion, the artist makes eminently clear that the rich man, who completely ignores Lazarus who stands just a few feet directly in front of him, indeed created his own chasm (between him and Lazarus, which God will replicate but reverse in an eternal way) and thus deserves his ultimate fate, as the Solentiname peasants many years before had decided in the discussions that led to the earlier commentary.

I also want to honor the ministry of my brother-in-law, Father Jerry Stookey (the brother of Rita, my wife), who worked as a priest in Nicaragua during the 1980s. During that time he and I had many fruitful discussions about how the peasants in Nicaragua interpreted the teachings of Jesus in their cultural contexts. Those interpretations, in many ways, are much closer to the first-century contexts of Jesus and his first followers than are many (even scholarly) interpretations in the United States. Those discussions with Jerry--and my study with Christopher Rowland at the University of Cambridge--opened my eyes to the depth of those often-ignored similarities.

Elsa Tamez and the parables is up next.

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