The gospel according to Matthew— these words are so familiar to those with a Christian background that they feel almost second nature. The rhythm of the text becomes repetitive, like a favorite song enjoyed too many times. The same stories are told over and over, preached over and over, sang over and over.
What if God were to give us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new hearts to feel the power of His inaugural gospel?
That is what is being offered in the art gallery on the second floor of Covenant’s very own Anna E. Kresge Memorial Library. Prepare yourself as you step across the threshold, to experience the once familiar story of Jesus’ perilous journey from the blade of Caesar Augustus to the blood- soaked cross of Pontius Pilate through the eyes of, German expressionist painter and veteran of the trench warfare of WWI, Otto Dix (1891-1969).
The abrupt stokes of Dix’s grease crayon create a visual language that captures the grit and brutality of Jesus’ life, a life filled with emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical violence. His expressionistic, high contrast, and often chaotic images reveal the gospel more as a horror story than a series of cute Sunday school flannelgraph lessons.
The stark black and white images almost seem to be encrusted with the dark dried blood of a savior who became part of a race of creatures so vile as to think up machine guns, crosses, chemical warfare, a crown of thorns, the ovens of concentration camps. Dix reminds us of a truth we often like to forget: the heart of every man, apart from God, is that of a monster.
Additionally, Dix’s emphasis on figure makes Christ’s incarnation that much more astounding. His sketched figures reveal the grotesque nature of living in bodies affected by sin. Their faces show the corrupt desires of their hearts through darkened eyes and cheeks streaked with blood or tears. Their poses catch them in the act of seduction, betrayal, denial, torture, and murder.
Dix transcends the limitations of static imagery by developing a narrative flow, panel by panel, that prefigures the modern graphic novel. It is the story of the Gospel of Matthew, but the Gospel of Matthew stripped of its familiarity, cleansed of its conventionality, and left as a brutally honest message about mankind’s need for redemption.
And yet, there is God right in the middle of the sweat, the filth, and the gore. Come see a Jesus humble and courageous enough to be born in a body, walk through blood-filled trenches, or even go to the cross for your sake.