Even if you’re not really into religious art, you’ve probably seen this picture of Jesus, just because it’s an incredibly popular picture of Jesus! In fact, I think the last time I went to the thrift store, I saw a copy of this picture.
…did I mention that it is a very popular image?
Here is the picture!
I’ve seen this picture before and didn’t really think much of it, honestly. It is a very nice devotional picture, of course, because Christ has such a loving gaze and it is nice to contemplate the fact that Jesus loves us. That’s why it’s such a popular picture, in fact!
What I didn’t know was that this picture is actually a detail of a much larger picture. This is the larger picture:
It is an illustration of this Sunday’s gospel, which goes like this:
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” 20He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
So, the reason why Christ’s face is so poignant and full of love? Because He does love the man. The gospel says so!
But, at the same time, Jesus is not simply content with loving the man. He wants to call the man into action. In the picture, He looks directly at the rich man with love. But Jesus also gestures behind Him, where there are some poor people standing into the shadows. There, we see a man who is dressed in rags and a widow, her face twisted in anguish and her head veiled in black. In this way, Christ suggests that the rich man, who is dressed with finery, give what he has to these people, who are standing and watching the interaction.
And the rich man’s expression? He is looking away from Christ’s loving gaze. He is looking away from the poor people in the shadows. Instead, he seems to be reconsidering things. Soon, he will go away, sad, because he realizes that he can never follow Christ, if it means giving up his wealth.
That look of love from Christ that is so evident on His face, in the context of the picture? It’s the love that Jesus has for the guy, knowing full well that this love of His will never be fully returned because the rich guy is just too consumed with his wealth and thus will not follow Jesus.
And, honestly, that just stabs me right in the heart.
And it makes me wonder: what is the treasure that I am guarding that keeps me away from Jesus?
What is holding me back from following God as much as I ought to?
How is God calling me to be a saint?
Am I really listening to Him?
Or am I simply following the commandments, not ready to actually respond to God’s call to action?
All of us are called to follow God and to serve Him in some way out of love for God. We all have gifts that we can use to help each other and build each other up. May we each use our gifts in accordance with God and never hesitate to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost.