Today's Gospel in Art - They intended to throw Jesus over a cliff

Attempt to Throw Christ Off a Cliff,  by Jerome Nadal 1593 © Christian Art Today

Attempt to Throw Christ Off a Cliff, by Jerome Nadal 1593 © Christian Art Today

Gospel of 16th March 2020 - Luke 4:24-30

Jesus came to Nazara and spoke to the people in the synagogue: 'I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

'There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah's day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha's time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.'

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Reflection on the Book Engraving

Jerome Nadal (1507-1580) was a Spaniard from Majorca and one of the first ten members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). For many years he served as the personal representative of the founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). It was Saint Ignatius himself who urged Nadal to compile and distribute an illustrated guide for prayerful meditation on the Gospels. Nadal worked on an illustrated Bible, of which I am showing you one illustration today. The book, Evangelicae Historiae Imagines, was only published in 1593, after St Ignatius and Nadal had died. Nadal selected the biblical scenes to be included, commissioned and directed the layout of the illustrations, and composed notes to accompany each scene.

This book became very influential in Counter-Reformation Europe, as the illustrations innovated the technique of 'perspective drawing' in engraving which depicted three-dimensional shapes more realistically. Look at the cliff in our engraving, and the depth it conveys. These illustrated Gospel books made the Gospel stories much more vibrant and realistic, and thus more effective as aids for evangelisation and meditation for people.

Today's Gospel reading tells us that prophetic witness and truth are not always well received. Nowadays too, they often provoke hostile rejection. It is a rejection rooted in unbelief. But our Gospel passage is brutal, as it shows how rejection can turn murderous. 'They nearly threw Jesus off a cliff'. A shocking image, and probably why this scene is very rarely depicted in art. But Jesus' ease in escaping at the end of the passage reveals that when it came to killing Jesus, the crowds may probably have recognised Him for who He really was and simply let Him go…


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Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Jerome Nadal

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