Christ Carrying the Cross,
Painted by Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959),
Painted in 1920,
Oil on canvas
© Tate Modern, London

Christ Carrying the Cross,
Painted by Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959),
Painted in 1920,
Oil on canvas
© Tate Modern, London

Gospel of 4 September 2022

Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple

Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’

Reflection on the painting

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is pretty clear: ‘Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’. Our artist, Stanley Spencer, painted an unusual take on this reading. He depicts a scene from the end of Christ’s life taking place in his own hometown. In the biblical account, Christ carries the cross through Jerusalem, but Spencer sets the scene in the English village of Cookham. Spencer believed that religious feeling was present in everyday settings and events. This is indeed a very poignant way to make the Christian message resonate in modern times. The painting was partly inspired by watching builders carrying ladders down a Cookham street. These figures are present in the painting, following behind Christ. The Virgin Mary sits by a railing in the foreground. The brick house is the artist’s family home.

Taking the path God is calling us to take, means we have to pick up our cross. For some it may be a very big cross on a straight road; for others it may be a small cross, but facing very winding roads.  Jesus declares that being his disciple may even involve hating family members. The reference to ‘hating’ is not to be taken literally, of course. Jesus uses deliberately provocative language to declare that being his disciple may sometimes require us to  go against even our closest friends. Being faithful to the Gospel can mean occasionally finding ourselves at odds with those who are personally significant for us.

When Sir Stanley Spencer painted this canvas, it met with a lot of resistance. He was at odds with his critics. But he stayed faithful to his calling as an artist and depicted what he thought he needed to do. He persisted. He needed strength and courage to do what he did as an artist. Similarly, Jesus is calling us to show strength and courage when we sculpt the journeys of our own spiritual lives.

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Charles Marriott
Charles Marriott(@chazbo)
5 months ago

A great very eccentric British artist. He once met Stalin who asked him where he came from. Cookham, was the reply “Have you ever been there?”

Patricia O'Brien
Patricia O'Brien(@marispiper)
5 months ago

I do like Stanley Spencer, a great British artist who deserves more acclaim. He had his crosses too…
The final word of today gospel hit me… possessions. We need to get without them or at least to regard them as dispensable. Of course Jesus came to the poor – they have a headstart on accepting his message, while I’m like the rich young man who went away sad “for he was a man of great wealth”

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