When I first started selecting artworks for my book, The Luminous Mysteries, most of the mysteries were fairly easy to illustrate.
The Baptism of Christ? There’s art for that! The Marriage at Cana? There’s art for that! The Transfiguration? There’s art for that! The Institution of the Eucharist? Let me tell you, there’s a lot of art for that one!
But when it came to the mystery of the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, I hit a wall.
How can one illustrate the entire ministry of Jesus, in which He traveled around Judaea preaching about the Kingdom of God, in just a few artworks? It seemed impossible!
Sure, there were artworks of Jesus speaking to crowds. But, when I assembled them all together and looked at them, there was something big missing. Really big. It was like I was missing a core aspect of His message, and honestly that tore me apart.
For instance, take a look at this artwork, which is featured in The Luminous Mysteries in the Proclamation of the Kingdom:
It is a beautiful artwork! It depicts Christ speaking to the people at Capernaum, with people all around Him listening in rapt attention. There, every person seems to have a different expression on their face, which I honestly love. Some are praying. Some are hiding their faces. Others are looking nervous. A couple people look bored. And I love artwork like this because I think it’s a good check to see where you are in holiness: just find your facial expression in the crowd and see where you stand with Christ!
Still, though a halo is around His head, He still looks very… much like a mere man. Which He was! And it’s good to see this depicted. Except… He is God as well! That is a huge part of His identity as well. And these images of Him speaking with the crowds didn’t seem to convey the extent of His glory and the glory of the Kingdom of God that I wanted to share that part in my book!
So I had to stop, pray, read the gospel, and seriously reflect on it to contemplate what the Kingdom of God meant. I read through the parables of Jesus. I read His words talking about the Kingdom. And all through this, I researched tons of artworks — artworks depicting Christ speaking to the people, illustrations of His parables, and illustrations of people simply coming to Jesus.
And why did most people come to Jesus?
Simple. They wanted a miracle.
Here is one of the artworks that I loved of someone coming to Christ for a miracle:
In this picture, Jesus is surrounded by people who flock around Him, not only to hear Him speak, but also to see the wonders that He can do. And they are not disappointed! They watch Jesus heal a blind man, their faces showing a myriad of reactions to the scene. Everyone seems to be in motion around Christ in a sort of excitement as they see the miracle happen right in front of them.
And there is Jesus, a loving look on his face, healing the blind man. One more, He is depicted in that scene as moving slowly in the midst of frenzied excitement. While everybody else seems to be moving quickly, Jesus seems to be more concerned with spending that moment with the blind man to heal him, only stepping forward to come closer to the blind man. The blind man is similarly absorbed in the moment, passively receiving the gift of sight from Christ.
I loved these sorts of images, in which Christ was actively ministering and healing those that came to Him. After all, how many times do we approach God for a miracle?
Yet, I still questioned whether they were appropriate for this mystery. After all, wasn’t the Proclamation all about Jesus preaching?
It was only when I was studying St. John the Baptist in scripture when it clicked. This part in particular:
1When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
In this little scripture, St. John the Baptist sends out a messenger to make sure that Jesus was really the Messiah. Which is understandable! Many people believed that the Messiah would rescue God’s people. Yet St. John the Baptist, who was arguably one of the closest people to God, was imprisoned. If Jesus were really God, wouldn’t Jesus rescue St. John the Baptist?
And then Jesus responds the way that He does, reminding St. John the Baptist that miracles are taking place… and that people are hearing the Good News. And thus, the preaching of Christ, in which Christ tells everybody about the Good News, is directly connected with the miracles of Christ.
And that is true! The two are so intertwined with each other that it is hard to separate them from each other. And it reminded me of the scripture that happens just before the Sermon of the Mount. Now, the Sermon on the Mount, which is arguably one of most notable sermons in Jesus’s ministry. In fact, when I was looking scripture passages for the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount was almost always the passage selected… usually along with this picture of the Sermon of the Mount by Carl Bloch!
(And yes, this artwork is in my book as well!)
Yet, just before the Sermon on the Mount is this little scripture:
23He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. 24 His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.
This scripture directly leads into the Sermon on the Mount:
1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2He began to teach them, saying:3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4 Blessed are they who mourn,for they will be comforted.5 Blessed are the meek,for they will inherit the land.6Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,for they will be satisfied.7Blessed are the merciful,for they will be shown mercy.8 Blessed are the clean of heart,for they will see God.9Blessed are the peacemakers,for they will be called children of God.10Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So the people that surrounded Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount were likely the ones who came either to ask for a miracle or to see a miracle happen. The words of Jesus were just an additional bonus to them.
And it makes me wonder: when we go to Jesus, how many times do we come to Him with a laundry list of miracles for Him to do for us? How many times do we moan over the mundane church rituals that we engage in week after week, yet delight in the personal miracles that we may receive once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky? How many times do we delight in personal testimonies from engaging people rather than reading the bible, which has stories that have been read to us so many times that sometimes they seem old?
And yet, look at the kindness that Jesus showed these people! He healed them and loved them and ministered to them as He preached to them. The people that came to Him listened to His words, not necessarily for the words themselves, but because of the Man behind those words. The Man that healed them. The Man that loved them and came to them as they were, helping them through some of the hardest moments of their lives.
The Man who promised salvation that was even greater than the miracles that He showed them.
The Man who promised them Heaven, if they would only follow Him.
Thus, in this chapter, you’ll find many pictures of Jesus ministering to the people. Sometimes, He is preaching to them. Other times, He is healing them. And all throughout, you’ll see the crowds throng around Him, watching Him as He serves and ministers and teaches, listening and watching Him speak of the Kingdom as He acts in love and mercy toward them.
And I earnestly hope that it will bring you closer to Jesus Christ! I hope by seeing these religious artworks together, you will remember that Jesus can heal and save even the most broken and forsaken and lost person. I hope it reminds you to listen to His voice as He speaks to us, even today, through His Word that He spoke here on Earth so very long ago. And I hope that you see this, not just as something that happened a long time ago, but as an invitation to grow in holiness closer to Jesus Christ.
And so! May we never be afraid to go to Jesus with our requests!
And may we always listen to His voice as He beckons us closer to His Kingdom.
This blog is part of a blog series about the Luminous Mysteries. This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Luminous Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here!