The Disappointed Soul,
Painted by Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918),
Painted in 1892,
Oil on canvas
Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. And still, it will not go as hard with Tyre and Sidon at the Judgement as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell.
‘Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.’
Reflection on the painting
Our Gospel reading today describes Jesus' reaction to seeing a lack of faith in places where he was expecting to see great faith. Jesus had travelled to the towns in Galilee where he had worked most of his healings and miracles. The names of three of them are mentioned in our short reading: Capernaum is where Jesus often preached; Bethsaida was the home of some of his disciples, such as Peter and Andrew, James and John; Chorazin, close to Capernaum, is mentioned nowhere else in the Gospel. Jesus was disappointed with the lack of faith shown by the people in these places. He says that they were no better than the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon. Whereas Jesus expressed disappointment in places where he would have expected to see good displays of faith, he often was confronted with amazing faith from completely unexpected people. Think, for example, of the Roman centurion, the Syro-Phoenician woman, or the Samaritan woman, all of them 'pagans' but displaying great faith.
We all experience disappointments and surprises on our journeys. Today's reading shows that disappointments were very much a part of Jesus' ministry too. However well we plan our lives, we will have disappointments, but also some beautiful surprises that may make us even happier than we had expected to be. In order not to get too disappointed in life, we should perhaps go forward with fewer expectations but with more belief that everyone can be brought (back) to faith.
Our painting from 1892 by Ferdinand Hodler titled The Disappointed Soul conveys this sense of disappointment, grief and melancholy. Painted towards the closing of the 19th century, it portrays very well the fin-de-siècle anxiety: uncertainty about the future and what the next century might hold. We see a weathered, barefoot man staring down. We don't see his facial expression, but his body says it all. The semi-naked, emaciated upper body makes us uncomfortable as a viewer. If we saw such a man sitting on a bench in real life, would we walk over and speak to him?...
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