The Desperate Man,
Painted by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877),
Painted between 1844–1845,
Oil on canvas
© Private Collection of the Conseil Investissement Art, BNP Paribas
Time will come when everything will be destroyed
When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’
Reflection on the painting
Most of us have had at least one ‘bad hair day’! Here the French Realist artist, Gustave Courbet, painted himself at the age of 24 as The Desperate Man, keeping the portrait in his studio for the rest of his life. Light in the painting falls on the artist’s forehead, nose and arms as he tears at his hair.
Was Jesus feeling desperate when he looked around him in wide-eyed horror and grief, all his senses alert to the signs of devastation looming? He knows he must both challenge and reassure the people listening to him. They must go beyond admiring the beautiful decoration of the temple to contemplate and do something about much that was wrong in their world. The cost would be greater than that of precious stones because it could well demand their life blood. Yet, God’s tender concern for even every hair on their head must be trusted. It is the same for us now.
Today's reflection was written by Sister Pauline Darby SHJJ. Sister Pauline taught for a few years before training as a facilitator and worked with schools and parishes in different dioceses in addition to religious congregations at home and abroad. Pauline uses art in both facilitation and retreat settings and is herself a keen iconographer. Currently she is serving in Rome as leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
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