Behold the Bridegroom Cometh,
Painted by Sir William Blake Richmond (1842-1921),
Painted circa 1903,
Oil on canvas,
© Sotheby’s London, 15 December 2021, lot 14
See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.
‘Sell your possessions and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready. You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’
Peter said, ‘Lord, do you mean this parable for us, or for everyone?’ The Lord replied, ‘What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you truly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time coming,” and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.
The servant who knows what his master wants, but has not even started to carry out those wishes, will receive very many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but deserves to be beaten for what he has done, will receive fewer strokes. When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.’
Reflection on the painting
Our Gospel reading today seems somewhat out of place during this month of August. Its theme of being ready and awake for the Lord’s coming seems to be more appropriate for Advent, when many of the readings are about preparing for the birth of Christ and calling us to be prepared. Yet therein lies the poignancy of today’s reading, here at the start of August: in our summer holidays we still have to be alert to the coming of the Lord. We have to be awake at all times!
Jesus uses a parable to illustrate us being called to be servants. We have to be always dressed for action, with lamps lit, always awake and ready to open the door as soon as the Lord comes and knocks. Even during the more laid back days of summer, when we operate at a slightly different pace, the Lord comes and knocks on the door of our lives.
Our painting by Sir William Blake Richmond, The Bridegroom Cometh (also known as The Ten Virgins) is among Richmond’s most impressive works. On the pillared portico of a grand palace, overhung with grape-vines and overlooking an expansive landscape of forested hills, ten heavily-draped female figures are waking to the dawning light burnishing the landscape. Half of the women move gracefully across the upper marble terrace towards the entrance to the palace, furnished with lamp-oil for the marriage festival that they will attend. The first kneels in reverence at the base of the flight of steps leading to the palace, holding out the lamp in front of her. On the terrace below, the other five virgins are in a state of panic as they realise that they have left it too late to fill their lamps. One of the foolish virgins leans against the cold marble and weeps, whilst two more desperately entreat the wise virgins for their help.
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Readings related to Luke 12:32-48
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A very over the top painting! We saw the Sickert show yesterday. He was good but a little bit sinister. A very busy Sunday today doing charity appeals. It’s quite expensive being a Catholic! ?
Really like this painting – and as you say Patrick, why would we think we only need to be awake in Advent!?