Prodigal Sons – Part 3, The Image


“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  “So the last will be first, and the first last.”  “Blessed are you who are poor…”  “Love your enemies…”

These sayings from Jesus run counter to our cultural values.  Each statement causes one to pause and wonder.  The statements are somewhat shocking, and seriously disorienting.  Jesus wants us to look at our eco-systems from a heavenly perspective rather than a worldly perspective.

Similarly, the first century Palestinian audience, hearing the parable of the Prodigal Son from Jesus’ lips would have found the father’s reaction to the Prodigal Son’s return unexpected.

We come to the Prodigal Son image shown in last week’s blog.  Again, it relies heavily on surreal technique.  Like Jesus’ sayings above, surreal imagery and poetry is often disorienting.  Good surreal art should disorient and cause the viewer to re-think the image from a different perspective.

Again, the initial reading of the Prodigal Son image is confusing.  Note the large unusual rock next to a pool of water, which is set against a dry, barren, landscape.

The lighting is disturbing.  The sky suggests a sunset, but the shadows move back into the image rather than forward to the viewer, as your mind expects.

There are three players in the image.  A younger son who is returning to his father, a loving father, and a suspicious, older brother.

We begin with the returning son.  He is naked.  He has crawled through a path in the barren desert to return to his Father.  His body is broken, and contorted.  His right leg remains caught in mud and debris, and is wrapped by a snake.  His spirit reflects the state of his body.  In repentance, he humbly reaches forward to the father’s outstretched hand.

A hole has been torn in the rock, through which the father’s powerful right arm reaches out to receive the son.  Inside the rock, bread is revealed.  The older son has been summoned by the father to bring wine.  The hands of the older son appear with a chalice of wine, but they face the father, not the younger brother.

There  is bread, there is wine, and there is a father who rejoices at the return of his son.  But, there is much more.

Consider, again, the right rear portion of the younger son’s leg.  It is buried in debris from the knee to the foot.  In this area we note a partially submerged golden apple, laying sideways. In addition, the head of a golden calf appears, which is also positioned sideways.  Finally, as noted earlier, a snake has wrapped itself around the son’s leg.  These elements are all intended to represent sin, which has become identified with the younger son.  These three elements grip the returning son slowing his progress.

We have come to an interesting double image.

The reflection of the ‘sin elements’ in the water look like the face of Christ.  Jesus, the sinless man, who took on sin on our behalf.  These elements, together with the reflection of the young son’s body, form the entire image of Christ.  I’ve taken that reflection, and mirrored it, and rotated it so that you can understand the intention behind the reflection more clearly.  This portion of the image celebrates the High Priestly position of Jesus, whose work on the cross enables our access to the Father.  These elements cause one to recall 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, and Hebrews 10:19-22.

My book, Surreal Christianity: A Journey with Jesus, Jung, and Dali explores techniques found in Surrealistic art and goes on to show how Christians can use those techniques to approach Scripture in new ways.

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