Jesus begins to set out for Jerusalem in today’s reading at Mass from the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel. Matthew offers a similar account in the 19th and 20th chapters of his gospel.
Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem alone, he invites others to go with him. It’s a journey to resurrection and life and more than a couple of days, but as they hear Jesus describe the way to Jerusalem, people react like people do,
You can’t miss human weakness in the journey stories of Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel, beginning with the Pharisees. I suppose they represent human doubt and questioning that’s always there. The disciples rebuked the women bringing their children forJesus’ blessing, and Jesus rebukes them. Be like children to make the journey, Jesus tells them.
The rich young man wants to hold on to what he has, so he goes away sad. Peter says proudly he’ s given up everything to follow Jesus, but we know how inconstant he is. The story of the brothers, James and John, is obviously a story of human ambition.
Matthew offers Mark’s stories in chapter 19 and 20 of his gospel. The artist Rembrandt drew a remarkable picture of the 19th and 20th chapter of Matthew called the Hundred Guilder Print.
Jesus stands at the center of Rembrandt’s work, bathed in light, his hands outstretched to the crowds before him.
Peter stands at Jesus right, close by. Other disciples, probably James and John, are next to him. Women and their children, whom the disciples told to go away, are next to them. The rich young man is also there in the crowd. Is he reconsidering?
Some of the enemies of Jesus who plotted against him and argued with him are also there, talking among themselves, but they’re still in the picture. Rembrandt even pictures the camel, back by the city gates.
Jesus sheds his light on them all. His arms are open to them all. Rembrandt has it right. Grace is more powerful than human weakness. It’s everywhere.
by Howard Hain
For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing…
—2 Corinthians 2:15
We see so many images of Christ Crucified. Museums and churches are full of them. And they should be. It is the greatest paradox ever told.
And to go along with the abundance of visual representations, there are of course also many artworks in written form depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ. Shelf after shelf can be filled with books containing the seemingly endless repertoire of poems, plays, and musical compositions based on the subject.
But none can capture the stench of death.
Smell moves us like no other sense.
It is so powerful. So quick. So nauseating.
Think of that the next time you’re riding the subway on your way to a museum. Think of that when a homeless man enters your subway car. Think of that when you’re tempted to switch trains at the next stop due to the stench.
Breathe deep instead.
Think of the stench. Think of that poor man—that poor sorrowful man dying right in front of you. The stench of rotting flesh. The stench of death.
No artwork that you’re on your way to see will bring Jesus and His Cross more to life.
Take a deep breath, and pray. You’re on holy ground.
Pray for yourself. Pray for the man. Pray for all those on board. Pray for the entire world.
Pray that that particular stench, that stench of death, right then and there, brings life.
That it brings life to hardened hearts.
That it brings life to senses numbed to the utter poverty of human suffering—suffering that manifests itself in oh so many ways.
That it brings life to what the world says can’t and shouldn’t be redeemed.
And give that gentleman a few bucks.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recommends an entrance fee of twenty-five dollars. Do you know how much consolation that poor suffering Christ riding right next to you would receive if you gave him that much?
Do you know how cheap a price that is to pay to be able to get so close to a living breathing masterpiece of sacrificial life?
Dig in deep. Dig into your pockets. Dig deep into the reserves of your heart.
You will be amazed how such a prayer, such an act of compassion, such a “living faith”, will transform the stench of death into the aroma of life.
Breathe deep. Pick up your cross. Die daily.
Get over yourself.
What a breath of fresh air!
Now that’s truly an entrance fee.
And it’s worth every drop.
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com
Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain
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Artists can be good interpreters of scripture. Rembrandt is one of the best. We’re in the second day of a Parish Mission–Revive, at St. Thomas of Canterbury Parish, Cornwall on Hudson, NY. I’ll be reflecting on some of the teachings of Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem from Galilee.
Rembrandt does that in his Hundred Guilder Print, a reflection on the 19th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s an inspiring portrait of Jesus calling poor humanity to himself. He is our Savior.
This evening at our mission at St. Theresa’s Parish in Staten Island, NY, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.
Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.
Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.
It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.
What does following Jesus mean? I spoke of two things. Jesus said to follow him we must take up our cross each day. He also said we must become like little children. He taught us about spiritual childhood.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.
Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!
Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.
But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it. If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord chose them to be present when He revealed His glory.
It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us just the kind of people to whom God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.
A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter to whom the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.
If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else, we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.
For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets—even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”
—Luke, Chapter 2:10,16-18,20
The Bad Thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
can be all three?
we know of Jesus
as perfect can be
we know too
of the good thief
turning toward Goodness
beside the good thief
one with the tree
we know too
what happened then
to the prodigal thief
a humble heart
sorrow for sin
by a sinless man
God the father
accepting the fee
the precious blood
of Jesus Christ
the good thief free
what of the other one
what of the thief
what of him
deserving to hang
what of that poor man
just like you and me
just like you and me
hanging above Mary
and the disciple
upon a third
rarely talked about tree
who is he?
but you and me
i am the bad thief
and so are you
i have stolen
stolen so much
what have you
in your pocket
that isn’t thine?
Jesus makes it
what happens to thieves
thieves like us
who simply say
yet even His promise
full of mercy
of paradise in fact
that very day
his good thieving legs
from being smashed
his repentant body
head to toe
not even Christ’s promise
from the King Himself
removes the good thief
from the gift
from the gift that is his cross
but what of the other one
what of you and me
what of us
thieves who also lie
who reject justice
what of the bad thief
can be redeemed
what of the bad thief
in you and me
God only knows
upon the dead
both the living
and the deceased
upon us all
upon Your children
Your children turned thieves
and You alone
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
and all the rest
of all humanity
to such a degree
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
are all three?
“But when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion…“
What we can never do
What we can never say
What we can never express:
Melted into a single drop of His blood…
“And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.”
Though he’s known best for his portrayal of the Dutch world of his time, Rembrandt was very interested in stories from the Bible, both from the Old and New Testament. Possibly one third of his work is devoted to biblical subjects, about 700 drawings among them.
What led him to paint and draw biblical events? It wasn’t mainly a patron’s commission, as was the case of his contemporaries– Rubens, for instance. Rembrandt seems genuinely attracted to the bible and felt compelled to draw from the biblical narrative, not because he could make money on it, but because it spoke to him and his situation in life.
“Rembrandt’s relation to the biblical narrative was so intense that he repeatedly felt impelled to depict what he read there. These sketches of Rembrandt have the quality of a diary. It is as though he made marginal notes to himself…The drawings are testimonies, self-revelations of Rembrandt the Christian.” (Rembrandt’s Drawings and Etchings for the Bible. p. 6)
It seems this interest in the bible came, in part, from his mother, a devout woman, who had a Catholic prayerbook that featured the Sunday gospels with illustrations on facing pages. As she prayed from this book, did she show them to her little boy growing up?
His portrayal of scriptural stories are so insightful. Just look at his portrayal of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, which is found in John’s gospel. Jesus deferentially asks for a drink of water, bowing to the woman as he points to the well. And she stands in charge, her hands firmly atop her bucket. She’s a Samaritan and a woman, after all. He wont get the water until she says so. Jesus looks tired, bent over by the weariness of a day’s long journey.
Certainly, this is no quick study of a gospel story. Obviously, Rembrandt has thought about the Word who made our universe and humbled himself to redeem us. Perhaps he’s also thinking of the way Catholics and Protestants at the time were clashing among themselves, their picture of Jesus a strong, vigorous warrior. But here he stands humbly outside a little Dutch village that the artist’s contemporaries might recognize. Some of them may be pictured looking on at the two.
Artists have a powerful role in relating truth and beauty.
And what about Rembrandt’s mother? A 19th century French Sulpician priest, Felix Dupanloup, who had a lot to do with early American Catholic catechetical theory said to parents:
“Till you have brought your children to pray as they should, you have done nothing.”
Looks like she did her job.
We solemnly celebrate the death and Resurrection of our Lord on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, using the simplest of signs.
On Holy Thursday Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. At table he gave them in bread and wine his own body and blood as signs of his love for them and for all humanity.
On Good Friday we take another symbol, the cross, a powerful sign of death, which first struck fear into the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, but then as they recalled the Lord’s journey from the garden to Calvary, as they saw the empty tomb, as they were taught by the Risen Jesus himself, they began to see that God can conquer even death itself.
On this day, we read the memories of John, the Lord’s disciple, who followed him from the Sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, its temple and its feasts, to Calvary where he stood with the women and watched the Lord die. Like the others, he recoiled before it all, but then saw signs of victory even in the garden, in the judgment hall, before Pilate, and finally in the cross itself.
On this darkest of days, Christ’s victory is proclaimed in John’s Gospel.
“ Go into my opened side,
Opened by the spear,
Go within and there abide
For my love is here” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter, September 5, 1740).