Cristo Blanco (White Jesus)
Posted by James and Julia Henley at 02:13 on 12th August 2011
Look up from almost anywhere in Cusco and you will see, towering over the city, a giant statue of Jesus; arms outstretched, his eyes staring impassively into space as he stands guard over the streets below. Of course having a statue of Jesus isn’t unusual here in South America as many cities have them, each with a distinctive character of their own. Perhaps the most famous is Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor, but other examples include the slightly controversial leaving gift of Peru’s outgoing president in Lima and the brilliant self-resurrecting Jesus in a theme park in Buenos Aires. The reasons for their construction also vary – the statue in Cusco was a gift from Palestinian Christians who lived in the city in the early twentieth century, Lima’s Jesus is a sign of ‘blessing and protection’ over Peruvians, and Rio’s Christ the Redeemer is a symbol of oppression; even today, anyone buying or selling property under his gaze has to pay taxes to the Catholic Church.
Standing at the feet of Jesus on the hilltop in Cusco (although not too close, because of the barbed wire fence that surrounds him) is a strange experience. The statue stands (deliberately one suspects) next to, but higher than, the ruins of an Incan fortress, thus forcing into juxtaposition two cultures which continue to live in tension with each other in Peru. The statue seems to suggest, however, that in this case Jesus has ‘won’, relieving people from the fear of traditional beliefs and now standing as a symbol of God’s protection over the city: faithful, unchanging, watching everything that goes on.
All this is well and good, but as we stood there I couldn’t help but feel that Jesus had become just another symbol, just another evil spirit-busting figurine to join the myriad of shrines, talismans and charms that fill the homes, streets and taxis of this city. Of course one of the central tenets of Christianity, and one that has particular resonance here, is precisely that Christ is more powerful than the forces of evil which pervade our world, and more than able to protect us from the ‘spirits’ which torment us. However the Jesus who stands on the hill in Cusco is a Jesus who is strangely detached from daily life, who seems completely removed from the grinding poverty and desperation of so many people. And as we stood there, I realised that this is not the Jesus that we read about in the Bible, and that this is not the God we worship. The Jesus we see in the Bible does not stand above the city but comes down into it; does not remain pure and clean but instead is covered in the dust and grime of the streets; does not stare passively ahead in steely-eyed concentration but instead is brought to tears by the suffering of the people whom he meets. He is a man who allows himself to be utterly caught up in the sin, trials and torment of the world. He is a man who isn’t protected by a barbed wire fence but who instead allows the crown of thorns to be pushed into his head. He is a God who takes the sin and suffering upon himself and in doing so transforms it, offering us the hope of a new tomorrow.
My hope and prayer is that this would be the Jesus that we share. A Jesus who doesn’t dominate but who serves, a Jesus who doesn’t oppress but who loves, a Jesus who doesn’t reject but embraces, a God who loved the world first and therefore truly deserves our worship.