Today's Gospel in Art - You place your hopes on Moses but Moses will be your accuser

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea,  by Frédéric Schopin, 1855 © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea, by Frédéric Schopin, 1855 © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

Gospel of 26th March 2020 - John 5:31-47

'If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

'You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?'

Reflection on the Painting

Our painting shows the moment when Moses became the most important Jewish prophet and leader in the Old Testament: when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. We see Moses dominating the composition in our painting, extending his rod against the Egyptians who are engulfed by the waves and the sea closing in on them. To the right, the reprieved Israelites, their children and animals, form an idealised chaos. The composition is diagonally (top right to bottom left corners) cut in two, with on the left the old Egyptian life, where the composition is fairly empty; and on the right the new found freedom, showing some artefacts towards the front of the painting recalling the years of slavery in Egypt.

Only the day before yesterday we heard about the miracle at the Pool of Bethesda. But in today's reading Jesus is frustrated at his listeners, pointing out that the miracles he performed should make them alert and have faith. His followers witness all these amazing miracles and yet they still don't recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, sent by His Father. They don't seem to connect the dots and understand who Jesus really is. A rather hard reading today, and especially when He says 'I know that you do not have the love of God in you'; how devastating that must have been for his followers to hear!

Jesus calls on Moses to testify to His identity and His mission. The age Jesus lived in is maybe not too dissimilar from our age. People can claim many things for themselves and we do not know whether to believe them or not. So, because we cannot trust everybody and we feel it would be naive to do so, we just question anything and everyone. Moses was highly important to the Jews, and Jesus quoting him to explain His own identity would have been quite controversial.

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Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Frédéric Schopin

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