Painting by Arthur John Elsley (1860-1952),
Painted in 1914,
Oil on canvas
Love one another, as I have loved you
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall not call you servants any more, because a servant does not know his master’s business;
I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father. You did not choose me: no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name. What I command you is to love one another.’
Reflection on the painting
When we look at some of the expressions we use regularly regarding our own human efforts, we say things like ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ or ‘you get in life what you deserve’ or ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ or even ‘there’s no pain without gain’. All these expression convey the idea that if you work hard you will reap the rewards; success is entirely dependent on our own efforts. The problem with this line of thinking is when we apply it to God, we get into an almost transactionary relationship with God: if I do this for you, then surely you must reward me some way.
Jesus in our Gospel reading teaches us otherwise. Following on directly from yesterday’s reading where Jesus spoke of love and joy, today he talks about friendships. Friendships are important. Just as with our faith, friendships require effort. True friends share with one another, make time to see each other and make a point of spending time together. God has taken the initiative to befriend all of us. He has demonstrated his friendship for us by having sent his son into the world. So if want this friendship to blossom, we need to do our part and respond.
Our painting is a charming illustration of youthful friendships. The little dog, the badminton racket and the happy expression on the children’s faces illustrate the power of friendship. When only eleven years old, the painter, Arthur John Elsley, was turning out proficient animal studies made during frequent visits to the London Zoo in Regent's Park. At the age of fourteen, he enrolled in the South Kensington School of Art (later the Royal College of Art). Around this time his eyesight became permanently damaged by a bout of measles, but he continued painting these charming scenes, often featuring playful children… depicting the gift of friendship we all can give to each other.
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