Contempt of Hatred,
Painting by Ernest Joseph Bailly (1753-1823),
Painted in 1792
Oil on canvas
© Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent / Alamy
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well. But it will be on my account that they will do all this, because they do not know the one who sent me.’
Reflection on the portrait painting
Most of our Gospel readings this week talked about love, trust and friendship, but today’s reading talks about hatred. Jesus says ‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you.’ Jesus is very realistic in what he is asking us to do. He knew that Christians would be met with hostility and hatred. In the early Church this would sometimes take the form of persecutions (which sadly still happen in parts of the world now). In the 21st-century Church, the hostility towards Christianity is in the form of aggressive atheism or of deeply rooted secularist indifference.
The hostility towards Christians in our century is more subtle. We may not even be especially aware of it, but we know that rejection of faith is present in our societies. This leads us to being afraid to publicly witness our Christian beliefs. We’d rather keep our heads down and just quietly live out our faith. There is a lot to be said for that, but Jesus calls us to try to be lights in a darkened world by the way we live our lives.
In line with Paris and Lille, the Ghent Academy in Belgium organised its first Salon in 1792. It was a competition focusing on the theme of a character portrait. Ernest Joseph Bailly obtained first prize with this portrait. The face is contorted and grimacing, exuding nothing but contempt. The work is titled ‘Contempt of Hatred’, as the man is actually rejecting hatred he is seeing in someone else. So whilst this is a harsh, unusual and uncomfortable portrait, its aim is a noble one: to convey a dislike of hatred.
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