Today's Gospel in Art - Jesus withdrew by boat to a lonely place

The Wedding Dress, by Frederick Elwell 1911 © Hull Museum Collections

The Wedding Dress, by Frederick Elwell 1911 © Hull Museum Collections

Gospel of 2nd August 2020 - Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist's death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, 'This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.' Jesus replied, 'There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.' But they answered 'All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.' 'Bring them here to me' he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.

Reflection on the Painting

Our Gospel reading today follows on from yesterday's events of the beheading of St John the Baptist. Our reading starts with the words 'When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist's death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves'. Jesus was upset and was grieving. Like any of us at the loss of a dear friend, we need time and space to process the news. So Jesus went off to a lonely place. Just like for the rest of us, it was impossible for Jesus to live and to love and not experience grief. It is therefore an important Gospel passage today, as we share in Christ's personal pain and grief.

After the loss of a close friend or family member, we want to be alone on one hand, but at the same time have helpful companionship in our aloneness. Same with Christ. He went off alone, but was accompanied by the disciples. They joined Him in His solitary grief and probably just sat there with Him, being there for Him. I think especially nowadays, when we seem to have a quick problem-solving attitude towards everything, that when grief comes along, where time and space are needed, it is not always given. Nothing new I guess, as we read in our Gospel passage: the crowds came flooding to Christ and went after Him on foot. His opportunity to grieve was cut short by the crowds.

Our painting, titled 'The Wedding Dress', by Frederick Elwell, shows a young woman dressed all in black kneeling on the floor of a dark bedroom next to an open chest. On the floor lies her white satin wedding dress and the white shoes she wore (or perhaps planned to wear?) on her wedding day. The woman is obviously grieving deeply, but the context isn't entirely clear. We can assume that her husband or husband-to-be has died? Perhaps she is putting her wedding dress away, closing a chapter of her life? Her bed she shared with her husband is now empty. Regardless of the context, the painting makes clear that black and white colours coexist on the canvas, the way life and death, joy and pain, and love and loss coexist in life… Jesus would have experienced this too.


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Tags: Christian Art, Patrick van der Vorst, Frederick Elwell

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