Death and Life,
Painting by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918),
Painted in 1910,
Oil on Canvas
© Leopold Museum, Vienna
The court official whose son was at the point of death
Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.
He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a court official there whose son was ill at Capernaum and, hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judaea, he went and asked him to come and cure his son as he was at the point of death. Jesus said, ‘So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!’ ‘Sir,’ answered the official ‘come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go home,’ said Jesus ‘your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’; and he and all his household believed.
This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.
Reflection on the Painting
One of the joys of reading the Gospels is that we hear of so many different people approaching Jesus, with different needs, different worries, different asks. Today we hear of a court official whose son was close to death. This royal court official may have been part of the court of Herod Antipas who was ruling Galilee at the time. People in his role would not normally have approached Jesus. But the official was desperate and at his wits’ end. He shows us how all of us, irrespective of our positions in society, come before Jesus.
What brought the official to the point of approaching Jesus was the fact that his son was dying. In moments being close to losing a loved one, we do ask ourselves the big questions of life. The imminence of death can put us in the Lord’s presence in a unique way. We realise that we are not self-sufficient and that we are not in control of our lives ultimately. The court official asked Jesus’ help, affirming Jesus as a source of life in the face of death.
Our painting by Gustav Klimt shows Death gazing at some sleeping, living people with a malicious grin. The group representing ‘life’ on the right comprises all generations: a baby, grandmother, mother, father, etc… ‘Life’ is painted in full colours, brightness and vibrant tonalities; death is rendered in greys, blacks and dark blues. This painting actually won the first prize at the 1911 International Art Exhibition in Rome. The painting is a modern dance of death taking place on the edge of life, but the living people are seemingly unaware...
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