The Good Shepherd

This older post remains one of my most popular. Since today’s readings are about God as the Good Shepherd, I thought I’d share it once more.

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

(Click on images for larger view)

Does your idea of Jesus include the image of the Good Shepherd? Paintings and sculpture of this figure date to ancient times and the Catacombs of Rome contain about 150 such images, showing that this was certainly a popular portrayal of Jesus for early Christians.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:14, 27

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:34

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Annunciation

When I’ve given presentations on the art of the Annunciation, the painting that is most universally admired is the version by the African American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner (b.1859-1937). People appreciate it perhaps because of its realism, the beauty of its warm golden light, and the humanity and humility with which Tanner portrayed the teenaged Mary.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

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The Sower

It seems hard to believe now, but until my first visit to an art museum, I didn’t understand why Van Gogh was considered a great artist. I had never been exposed to art…never visited a museum…never taken any art classes in school. Better late than never, in my mid-twenties my first art museum visit was to the Honolulu Academy of Art (now the Honolulu Museum of Art). Continue reading

The Baptism of the Lord

 

Andrea del Verrocchio is known primarily as a Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith, but he and his busy workshop in Florence also produced paintings. He trained many young artists and among them was Leonardo da Vinci, who assisted with this painting of the Baptism of Christ.  Leonardo painted the angel at the far left as well as some of the landscape. Most of the painting is done in tempera, which uses egg yolk to bind the pigment, but some areas also include touches of oil paint, a new medium that was just being introduced in Italy at this time by Dutch and Flemish painters. Continue reading

Adoration of the Magi

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

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Be like Zacchaeus

 

At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

Niels Larsen Stevns, Christ And Zacchaeus, 1913, Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark

Niels Larsen Stevns, Christ And Zacchaeus, 1913, Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark

From Dailyscripture.net:

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) urges us to climb the sycamore tree like Zacchaeus that we might see Jesus and embrace his cross for our lives:

Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies. The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, ‘You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.’ The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing… He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of ‘silly fruit.’ As the apostle says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.’ Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, ‘“What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?’ What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. ‘The wisdom of this world is folly with God.’ No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush. As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.’[Sermon 174.3.]

The Lord Jesus is always ready to make his home with each one of us. Do you make room for him in your heart and in every area of your life?

“Lord Jesus, come and stay with me. Fill my life with your peace, my home with your presence, and my heart with your praise. Help me to show kindness, mercy, and goodness to all, even to those who cause me ill-will or harm.”

Ejecting the Money-changers

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

 

El Greco painted several versions of this scene. Here we see an early one before 1570, now in Washington DC, and one in his mature Mannerist style from about 1600, now in London.

Christ cleansing the Temple, El Greco, probably before 1570, oil on poplar wood,Height: 65.4 cm (25.7 in). Width: 83.2 cm (32.8 in)., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Christ cleansing the Temple, El Greco, probably before 1570, oil on poplar wood, Height: 65.4 cm (25.7 in). Width: 83.2 cm (32.8 in)., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

From the NGA website:

“In this tempestuous scene, El Greco depicted an angry Christ driving the moneychangers from the Temple. An uncommon theme, it became increasingly popular in the latter half of the sixteenth century, promoted by the Council of Trent as a symbol of the Catholic church’s attempt to purify itself after the Protestant Reformation. Here El Greco portrayed partially draped women and bare-chested men writhing and twisting to escape the blows of Christ’s scourge, emphasizing the agitation of the participants and exaggerating their irreverence. The setting is one of classical grandeur, more reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palace than of the sacred precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem.

This panel was painted in Venice before El Greco made his way to Spain. The illusionistic space and voluptuous figures in this early work are vastly different from the flattened space and stylized forms of Byzantine art, which continued to dominate painting in El Greco’s native Crete. El Greco’s arrival in Venice, in about 1567, coincided with a high point in that city’s artistic achievement. That the Cretan artist had absorbed the influence of the Venetian masters and taught himself a new way of painting is evident in the movement and drama, solidly modeled figures, and boldly brushed colors of this panel. The influence of the Venetians is equally evident in the elaborate architectural setting with its complicated perspective.”

Christ driving the Traders from the Temple, El Greco, circa 1600, oil on canvas,106.3 × 129.7 cm (41.9 × 51.1 in)

Christ driving the Traders from the Temple, El Greco, circa 1600, oil on canvas, 106.3 × 129.7 cm (41.9 × 51.1 in), National Gallery, London.

 

And from the London Museum:

“In the time of Christ, the porch of the Temple in Jerusalem accommodated a market for buying sacrificial animals and changing money. Christ drove out the traders, saying, ‘It is written “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you make it a den of thieves.’ (Matthew 20). This episode is known as the Purification of the Temple.

The picture is dominated by the figure of Christ, poised to unleash his whip. On the left are the traders and on the right are the Apostles. In the 16th century the subject of the Purification of the Temple was used as a symbol of the Church’s need to cleanse itself both through the condemnation of heresy and through internal reform.

The reliefs in the background allude to the themes of punishment and deliverance. On the left Adam and Eve‘s expulsion from Paradise prefigures the Purification of the Temple, and on the right, the Sacrifice of Isaac prefigures Christ’s death as the source of redemption.

El Greco painted the subject several times throughout his career, both in Italy and in Spain. This version, with its strong colours and elongated forms, was probably painted in Toledo in about 1600.”

 

For an article on El Greco’s several versions, click here.

 

With this reading I was reminded of the recent attempts by Pope Francis to reform the Vatican’s finances as well as his critique of the excesses of capitalism. May the Lord bless and protect the holy Father in his attempts to cleanse the Temple!