The Pharaoh's Daughter, The Finding of Moses,
Painted by Edwin Long (1829-1891),
Painted in 1886,
Oil on canvas
© Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

The Pharaoh's Daughter, The Finding of Moses,
Painted by Edwin Long (1829-1891),
Painted in 1886,
Oil on canvas
© Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

Gospel of 18 March 2021

You place your hopes on Moses but Moses will be your accuser

John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews: 'If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

'You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?'

Reflection on the Painting

Our painter, Edwin Long, sold one of his paintings four years before he executed the canvas we are looking at today, for £6,615, which at the time was the most expensive work of art ever sold by a living artist. Now this record stands at $91.1 million for Jeff Koons' Rabbit, sold by Christie's two years ago (see https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6205139). I may be mistaken, but I imagine that many of you won't have heard of Edwin Long. It is interesting that during his lifetime he enjoyed so much success and now is barely known. Our painting depicts Moses being found by the Pharaoh's daughter while bathing. 

We mostly think of Jesus as being a quiet, softly spoken, gentle, friendly, peaceful man, which of course He was. However, whenever necessary, He was confrontational and didn't shy away from speaking His mind, as is on full display in today's reading. Talking to the Pharisees, He tells them that whilst they are great experts in the Law of Moses and pretend to fulfil every letter of that law, they are deceiving themselves. He even goes as far as saying that their actions are condemned by that same Law on which they claim to be experts: 'You place your hopes on Moses, but Moses will be your accuser'. The Pharisees thought that strict obedience to rules would earn the approval of God. 

And therein lies the beauty of Jesus' teachings, not to just follow rules blindly: the heart has to be involved. Love God. Love Christ. Love one another. As Moses' journey was just beginning when he was found as depicted in our painting, our reading today invites us to start our journey of faith afresh during Lent by focusing on the love we hold for God. 

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