The crucifix is never an easy sight for Jewish eyes. Jews are vexed by the depiction of a crucified Messiah, which has more often than not symbolized the source of their own sufferings. Sitting in front of a Holocaust survivor meeting face-to-face with the Christ crucified in Rick Wienecke's sculpture series "Fountain of Tears" is, well, unsettling.
For Christians the once shameful image of a crucifixion became the central and distinguishing symbol for their new covenant faith. While other religions celebrated the power and majesty of their gods, the Church focused on the human vulnerability and suffering of the Son of Man. Alone among the world's religions, Christianity defiantly displayed the wasted and twisted body of a suffering Savior as its central theme.
But for the Jews the use of symbolic and pictorial arts for worship were never as necessary as for the Christian world. In Church history, paintings, sculpture, and frescoes were the main way that the Bible story was told to the mostly illiterate public. These served as the Biblia pauperum, or Bible of the poor. For the Jews, however, with a high level of literacy due to their well-developed system of education and familiarity with the biblical story, this was not necessary. When dynasties like Babylon, Greece, and Rome tried to impose their graven images on the Jews, they resisted, often unto death. During the Common Era, Christians worshipping before images of the crucifixion and the cross looked to the Jews like another idolatrous, anti-Jewish superstition.
So the Jews became the classic iconoclasts, destroying images set up for religious veneration and tearing down beliefs in God that were based on error or superstition. The Pentateuch itself prohibits in sternest terms the making of any image or likeness of man or beast for purposes of worship (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:8; Deut. 4:16-18).
Wienecke, an Israeli Messianic believer living in the desert town Arad in Israel’s Southern Negev does not shy away from the image of the crucifixion even in its relationship to the Holocaust. Given the long history of Christianity blaming the Jews as tormenters of their Savior rather than as "brothers" who shared his fate, looking for Jesus among the murdered masses of the Holocaust is admirable and sobering.
Many have tried to interpret Jewish suffering in Christian terms. Some Christians have even spoken of the murder of the six million as a kind of crucifixion. Jewish suffering becomes, in a mystical way, the suffering body of Christ.
In 1979, when Karol Wojtyla came home to Krakow as Pope John Paul II, he called Auschwitz the "Golgotha of the modern world." Such spiritualizing, while commendable, eventually only eliminates anything Jewish from the very place where Jews were themselves eliminated.
For if Jesus had been in Auschwitz, he would have died a nameless victim with a number on his arm.
The Fountain of Tears begs us to look beyond traditional margins in search of an authentic Christian response to the Holocaust. In this massive work, which took Wienecke seven years to complete, the Jewish Messiah is not found among his suffering people as in the typical portrayals of Christ in the Holocaust. Wienecke portrays the Christ figure neither comforting, nor in an act of identification, nor even intercession for the brutalized Jews. Rather, he portrays them face to face. Two Jews, one a Savior whose sufferings became the source of hope and inspiration for millions, the other a survivor left alone with his grief.
What possible communications can there be between them?
"This is a dialogue of suffering between the Holocaust and the Crucifixion," Wienecke says. "It is based on the last seven words of Christ on the cross," he explains. "But it is not a Christian monologue, it is a two-way conversation."
There are seven life size bronze figures facing seven stone reliefs of the crucifixion in this serious reflection on the relationship between the Jewish Messiah and the Holocaust Jew. While challenging our traditional thinking on the subject, Wienecke's piece invites solemn contemplation that somehow the two might find a point of contact.
The next time you are in Israel you can visit the Fountain of Tears, which is now on exhibition in the Negev desert town of Arad. The sculptures are life-size, and this colossal stone and bronze monument will inspire a fresh look at Jesus and the post-Holocaust Jew.