Painted by James Christensen (born 1942),
Oil and acrylic on canvas,
Executed in 2002
© James C. Christensen
No one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’
Reflection on this painting
‘One of them turned back praising God’, we read in today’s Gospel passage. We see the thankful man depicted in our painting on the right, turning away from the rest of the group to go and show his gratitude to Christ. The other nine lepers are walking away. They were healed and just walked away without saying thanks. Only one man, the Samaritan, described as the 'foreigner', returned to give thanks.
James Christensen, a California-based artist, paints this Gospel scene in a very elegant and graceful way. We can make out the lepers only by the way they are dressed, in worn-out clothes. The painted detail of the torn, used, scruffy clothes shows that moments before this scene, they were still ill, still lepers. The clothes remind us of their past. Their perfectly healed skin tells us of their current healed state going into the future.
Of the ten lepers, nine are too preoccupied with celebrating their new lease of life after having been healed. They are so caught up in themselves and in the moment. They don’t think even for one moment of being grateful to Jesus who healed them. By contrast, the tenth truly grasps the magnitude of what has happened and the grace he has received. He is the only one who returns to acknowledge Christ. I love his pose. His hands are held up. He probably looked at those same hands a few moments before realising that he was healed, and his gaze looks back at Christ, who is outside the painting. This image and our Gospel reading provide an inspiring reminder to pause for a moment in our fast-paced world and think about all the beautiful things we can be thankful for….
“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.”
- St. Ambrose
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