Saint Peter and Saint John Run to the Sepulchre,
Gouache by James Tissot (1836-1902),
Painted between 1886 and 1894,
Gouache and graphite on paper
© Brooklyn Museum, New York
John ran faster than Peter to the Tomb
On the first day of the week Mary of Magdala came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’
So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed.
Reflection on the Artwork
Only two days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Yesterday we looked at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Today we are at the tomb of Christ. In the space of a mere two days, we go from Christ's birth to his death... The Church probably ordered the readings in this quick juxtaposition to tell us that life is short... so we had better make something of our lives…
But let us look more closely at the sentence St John writes in today’s Gospel ‘They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first’. In the first instance, it may seem like a trivial bit of information. Why is it so important for John to tell us that he ran faster than Peter? Is John is telling us that his faith was stronger than Peter’s by running faster, more focussed, more driven? The tradition that considers the beloved disciple, John, being the author of the Gospel of John, would look at this passage proving the point that it was necessary for John to be considerably younger than Peter and thus faster. His youthful vigour is thus a common explanation for why he beats Peter. The disciple's great love for Jesus is also considered as a possible explanation for why he hurried there slightly faster than his fellow apostle.
Whilst this makes for fascinating biblical scholarship discussions, we can perhaps agree that John knew deep down that he wouldn’t find Christ at the tomb anymore. He did not even have to enter the tomb at first to know this. He stayed outside as his faith told him that Christ had risen from the dead. He immediately understood what had happened. Peter, on the other hand, did have to enter the tomb to see with his own eyes that Christ wasn’t there anymore. Peter needed proof and first hand witnessing. But it is on Peter that Christ built his Church. He might at the time not have been the man holding the most faith compared to the other disciples, but nevertheless Christ handed the keys of the Church to him.
Our gouache on paper is by James Tissot. He was a French painter and illustrator. As a young artist he studied largely on his own by copying works at the Louvre Museum. We still often see nowadays people painting or drawing in museums; they are the future artists such as Tissot. He left Paris for London in 1871. At the age of 50, he had a revival of his Catholic faith which came to the fore in a very strong way. The Last 17 years of his life were entirely dedicated to making paintings about Biblical events. Todays’ watercolour is part of 365 illustrations showing the life of Christ, illustrations which even at the time received critical acclaim. Today's gouache shows John ahead of Peter, running to the tomb. John has a sense of urgency about him. He was running towards the Lord, just as we are invited after the days of Christmas, to also run towards him with great urgency...
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