Rev. Bror Erickson
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” – I Peter 2:21
Fernando Botero (1932-pesent) perhaps most famous for his paintings of half-naked and rotund women looking at themselves in the bathroom mirror, turns his attention, style and skill to more serious topics while wrestling with his own faith in “Via Crucis”, a series of 27 paintings and 34 drawings depicting the Stations of the Cross. In this particular station, “The Flogging of Christ”, Fernando depicts a Colombian police officer beating Jesus as he carries his cross.
“The most Colombian of Colombian artists,” Botero became the most beloved artist of the art world in the mid to late 20th century, and has been going strong throughout the 21st century as he has turned his attention to more serious subject matter. A Botero is instantly recognizable, and they are found everywhere. For instance, Botero’s fat squatty statues outside the Israel Museum invite pilgrims to crack a smile and enjoy life just blocks away from the Via Della Rosa, the actual site of Christ’s passion that inspired “Via Crucis”. Like encountering old friends, his fat and happy remakes of classical masterpieces greet you from the walls of the Fine Arts Museum in Houston. These are the paintings that cause the name of Botero to conjure up bold colors, and simple yet sophisticated caricatures of Latin American life. His love for life and Colombia, his hometowns of Medellin and Bogota bleed through his paint, allowing his style to transcend cultures and inspire a cosmopolitan patriotism.
This love for life, so often shown in the humor of earlier paintings, shows itself here in the humiliation of Christ being beaten by a police officer. Amidst the beautiful strangeness of proportion characteristic to Botero the details of a Latin Jesus comes to life in bright red blood, and a bold brown and thorny crown. The officer in green and a mustache reminiscent of Hitler, towers over Jesus ready to deliver another blow with his night stick. It’s a powerful presentation of the violence familiar to Fernando himself.
Botero’s hometown of Medellin gave birth to some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century, men like Pablo Escobar who started the Medellin Cartel, women like Griseldo Blanco who terrorized the streets of Miami throughout the 80s. Columbia broke into civil war as the government tried to put an end to cocaine trafficking with the help of U. S. military leadership, and FARC Rebels tried to bring about the Cuban Revolution in South America. Though many of these threats have been put down to greater or lesser degrees the conflict continues in many areas. Thrown into the mix was the popularity of “Liberation Theology” among the poor farmhands in the rural areas. A theological system known now to be a KGB invention (Source: cruxnow.com), Latin American Liberation Theology sought to justify communist revolution. Police and government crackdown against the church and revolutionaries could often be overzealous, the people often caught up in the violence. Such alignment of the church with various political causes to the right and to the left often causes confusion among those who would believe. When Botero says he is “at times a believer, at times an agnostic” (Source: artitude.eu a person can sympathize with him the way he sympathizes here with victims of police brutality.
The police belong to the good order and authority that God has placed on earth to “punish those who do evil, and praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:14) These are the words of Peter, written at a time when persecution of the Bride of Christ was already known within the Roman Empire. At times the words of scripture concerning obedience to the civil government, and other authorities, indeed even to slave masters, strikes us today as naïve. Of course, Paul and Peter, the rest of the disciples who saw the flogging and crucifixion of Christ knew that government could overstep its bounds, that evil people could inhabit office and use it for evil ends, that the government sometimes also praised those who do evil, and punished those who did good. Paul himself once led the persecution with civil blessing until Christ chastised him for kicking against the goads. Goad being a term used for a stick used to prod cattle along in a stockyard. They were not naïve when it came to the corruption of power and authority, nor did they believe that government could not ever be resisted, as they themselves obeyed God rather than man. (Acts 5:28-29) And this is what Peter has in mind as he comforts his flock saying, “when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:20-25) For it is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls who says to us, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) For when they persecute you for his names sake, they kick against the goads of Christ their Lord and Savior who carried the cross also for them, and calls them to repentance.
Pastor Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Farmington NM.