If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to see?
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?
Joan Osborne (1995)
Christology in images
Osborne’s (1995) song calls to mind a profound and poignant question: what does the face of God look like? Furthermore: what does the face of Jesus, as God incarnate, look like? Does he look like me? Is he Māori? I recall images of Jesus in the homes of whānau and friends. One such image was of a 1950s-style Jesus, with a European profile and baby blue eyes. He looked quite content in this image; this Jesus had not anticipated what was to come. This Jesus was white. In another illustration of Jesus, he is suffering, crowned with thorns, with a look of anguish and annihilation in his eyes – the weight of the world’s sins, past, present, and future, crushing him. This Jesus was also white. Another such image is the iconic Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this image, the heart of Jesus is understood, by some, as a representation of Christ’s love for humanity. The heart, pierced and bleeding, surrounded by thorns and crowned with the cross, radiates divine light. Again, this Jesus was white.
In the wharenui at my marae in Waiohau, there was a brass cross inside a wood and glass case which sat upon a small, high, shelf affixed to the central poupou at the back of the whare. The cross was old and tarnished. Below it was a very old, weathered, framed, picture of Jesus knocking on a door illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (KJV). Jesus stands dressed in a light-coloured alb-like tunic, with an elaborate cope, a gold crown, and a garland of greenery illuminated by a halo. Besides the crown, Jesus appears to be wearing liturgical garb. He holds in one hand an elegant lamp, and with the other hand knocks on a door, covered with overgrowth, suggesting that this door has been closed for a long time. Interestingly, the door does not have a doorknob. This old image was a battered print of William Holman-Hunt’s 1853 painting (there were three versions painted), Light of the World. Concerning the absence of a doorknob Holman-Hunt (1905) declares that this represents “…the obstinately shut mind” (p. 350). Jesus knocks, but the individual must open the door from the inside. However, this Jesus is white.
Image 1: Holman-Hunt’s, Light of the World, 1900-1904 version, Middlesex Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral, London
(Holman-Hunt, 1904-1905, n.p.).
None of the images of Jesus that I have seen look middle-Eastern. It seems that Christological iconography reflects the culture of the artist: European artist = European Jesus.
Christology in words
If Jesus comes to us in a way that we can recognise, what of a Māori Jesus? James K. Baxter’s poem causes me to reflect on what a Māori Jesus might look like.
I saw the Maori Jesus
Walking on Wellington Harbour.
He wore blue dungarees,
His beard and hair were long.
His breath smelled of mussels and paraoa.
When he smiled it looked like the dawn.
When he broke wind the little fishes trembled.
When he frowned the ground shook.
When he laughed everybody got drunk.
The Maori Jesus came on shore
And picked out his twelve disciples.
One cleaned toilets in the railway station;
His hands were scrubbed red to get the shit out of the pores.
One was a call-girl who turned it up for nothing.
One was a housewife who had forgotten the Pill
And stuck her TV set in the rubbish can.
One was a little office clerk
Who’d tried to set fire to the Government Buldings.
Yes, and there were several others;
One was a sad old quean;
One was an alcoholic priest
Going slowly mad in a respectable parish (Baxter, 1988, p. 347).
Brown’s poem is a response to Baxter.
I am the Māori Jesus
i AM the Māori Jesus
And i don’t like
mussels and parāoa
Give me fish ‘n’ chips
with tomato sauce
Fresh white bread
and loads of butter
Butter makes this country great
So feed my whenua
to the cows
for all i care (Brown, 2014, p. 48).
Contextualising my Christology into a Patuheuheu hapū (one of my hapū) milieu, this is my response to both Baxter and Brown.
I am the Patuheuheu Jesus
I go eeling and hunting
My knife is always sharp
My hīnaki is always bursting
I don’t eat wild pork, cos I’m a Jew
But I give it away to the old people
They make boil up and
pāpākiri thick with butter
At Easter time I walk
through the Horomanga
looking for a big fat kererū
In the pot it goes for Aunty
She’s sick – even I can’t heal her
It’s her last supper, no wine
Just waikōhua and kūmara
Too sick to chew flesh
I salt and dry the eels in the sun
I don’t eat eels, cos, again, I’m a Jew
Koro and Nan eat it with rīwai and pūhā
I’m all about that manaaki life
Sometimes I scrub the shit
out of the toilets and unblock
Working at the marae
is hard work at times.
Image 2: Some of my collection of religious iconography, Murupara
(B. Rangiwai, 2016, private collection)
I have referred to Jesus on many occasions as a ‘Jewish zombie’. This piece is a reflection on the idea that Jesus reminds me of the ‘un-dead’ in the zombie and vampire movies that I grew up watching in the 1980s. Here I use some forms of social media language and slang.
You challenged the status quo
Advocated for the poor and oppressed
You broke the rules
and hung out and partied
with all the hoodlums and rejects
You fought for the people
sorted them out with jobs,
free doctor’s visits, fresh fruit and veges,
bread and fish, warm dry homes,
You pissed off the power brokers
You f_cked with the establishment
one too many times
You protested hard out
You’re a radical, a revolutionary
Now you’re behind bars
That warden is nasty AF
He wants your head, real bad
Make an example
Haters gon’ hate
Rest in love, bro
Sad that you died
*feeling heartbroken @ golgotha*
You were just too
good for this world
#Cross #Nails #TombLife
On the cross you hung
For our sins you died
In GLORY you rose again
(that was freaky but neat)
In our hearts you live
At the right hand
of your Father you sit
Heaven looks awesome
on your #SnapChat
Thanks for being dead
But #NotDead #ZombieJesus
KIN editor’s note: Part 2 of this work will continue next week.
Baxter, J. K. (1988). Collected poems James K Baxter. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Brown, B. (2014). I am the Māori Jesus. In R. Whaitiri & R. Sullivan (Eds.), Puna wai kōrero (pp. 48-54). Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.
Holman-Hunt, W. (1900-1904). Light of the world [painting]. Retrieved from: https://www.stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/the-collections/collections-highlights/the-light-of-the-world
Holman-Hunt, W. (1905). Pre-Raphaelitism and the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan.
Osborne, J. (1995). One of us. Relish. Philadelphia, PA: The Crawlspace.