Dilatato Corde 2:1
January - June, 2012


The Boy Jesus Teaching in the Temple
(Click to access video on YouTube)                                         

 Artist: Kingsley Goonatilleke
One of the top-most artists in Sri Lanka,Kingsley Goonatilleke supervised the reconstruction of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy after it was bombed by the Tamil Tigers. He was also involved in the restoration of the Temple’s artwork.  
The work was a gift for Father Pieris’ on his 40th anniversary of Religious Life (1993) and involved more than two years of meditation and reflection on the biblical text

 Medium: Clay.

 Jesus and Mary as Portrayed by Buddhist Artists
Part II: The Boy Jesus Teaching in the Temple

(The same introduction is included on all five videos in which Father Pieris describes Jesus and Mary as portrayed by Buddhist artists. It lasts one minute and forty-five seconds.)

These artistic works of Buddhists interpreting Christianity are based on a missiological principle which is the contrary of the traditional missiology. In the traditional missiology, the Church tells the Buddhist who Christ is. We do the opposite; we ask the Buddhists who Christ is. They tell us who Christ is, and in that dialogue they tell us not only who Christ is for them, but also who Christ is for us in Asia. This is a kind of dialogue with artists who believe in another religion but find Christ as an excellent object of artistic appreciation and of religious devotion. All these people who have made these depictions of Christ and Mary in murals, in clay, or in paintings have given us a message: if we want to speak of Christ, even among ourselves, there is a language to be used. And these Buddhists have given us the language.

This is an interpretation of Luke, chapter 2, verses 41-52. It’s the famous story of Jesus getting lost in the temple. The artist is impressed by the Gospel text—which he has carved here on bricks—that Jesus was found in the temple listening to the past masters, religious teachers, as well as questioning them; the fact that Jesus was a learner and that he was humble enough to learn, and at the same time inquisitive enough to question things, as his mother did even with God.

So here he is gesturing with one hand, with the Buddha right in front. Since the artist is a Buddhist, he has put Jesus and the Buddha face to face, while the other religious leaders are distributed in the mural. So we have here Lao Tse and Confucius; we have below here Krishna, and there is Mahavira, founder of Jainism. We have Moses, founder of Judaism. We have the Greek triad: Plato Aristotle, and Socrates—rather the other way. And since those who wrote history ignored women, the artist has put women teachers on either side: from the West, because some of the great Greek philosophers had women inspiring them. We have one of them here, in the Western world. And here we have Paravati or whoever you like, a picture of a woman here, to represent the other half of humankind, who were also teachers and learners like Jesus.

So this is the background. Buddha is in the mudra (the manual gesture) of teaching, and there is Jesus listening, and, of course, questioning.

The most peculiar thing is the position of Joseph and Mary. Joseph as usual is silent; a father that is not found in Judaism [of Jesus’ time]; the father is  humble , [is in] the background: [he] works, [is] silent, [is] not the dominant type that Jesus wanted to erase from our memory in order to bring his Father to us.

Here we have Mary, who represents the Church and tries to control the Word of God. This is the great temptation of the Church, to control the Word of God.

With one gesture, with his right hand, he is questioning and listening; with his left hand he tells the mother, who represents the Church, “My mission comes directly from the Father. We are [I am] under your jurisdiction, but you have no power over my mission. You are there not to thwart, but to encourage, enhance this mission and stay with me till the end.”

And the artist has written here behind: This is a reflection of what we do here at Tulana. We tell the Mother Church, “Don’t give in to the temptation.” Vatican II says, “Magisterium non supra Verbum Dei est, sed eidem ministrat” (Dei Verbum, #10).It should serve the Word of God; it has no power over it. It represents here that the Church has to respect the mission we have got directly from the Father: i.e., to dialogue with religions. To learn from the past as Jesus did, questioning also at the same time. And this is what we are doing in this house. We tell the Church, we don’t need your [per]mission. We have [per]mission directly from God. But we will be under your jurisdiction. Your function is to help us, rather than to put obstacles to us. This is the general vision that the artist has given us.

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