Grandfather Telling a Story,
Painting by Albert Anker (1831-1910),
Painted in 1884,
Oil on canvas
© The Museum of Fine Arts, Bern
His teaching made a deep impression on them
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because he spoke with authority.
In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil, and it shouted at the top of its voice, ‘Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the devil, throwing the man down in front of everyone, went out of him without hurting him at all. Astonishment seized them and they were all saying to one another, ‘What teaching! He gives orders to unclean spirits with authority and power and they come out.’ And reports of him went all through the surrounding countryside.
Reflection on the painting
Luke tells us at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading that the teaching of Jesus 'made a deep impression' on everyone. Because what he said and did made such an impression, everything could be passed on by word of mouth until it was eventually written down in our Gospels. The Gospels were thus largely written out of an oral tradition first. And that oral tradition came from people being impressed by what they saw.
These oral gospel traditions were the first stage in the formation of the written gospels as information was passed by word of mouth. Story telling was at the center of the beginnings of Christianity. We have to remember that Jesus died around 33 AD. For some thirty to forty years, there was no written account of his life. During that time, we have very little in the way of written records within Christianity. Our first writer in the New Testament is Paul, and his first letter is dated around 50 to 52 AD, still a good 20 years after Jesus died. But it appears that in between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel by Mark, people are clearly telling and sharing the stories which made their way to the Gospels.
Our painting by Swiss artist Albert Anker dates from 1884 and depicts a grandfather telling a story to his grandchildren. We can well imagine that in the earliest church times, people would have sat with their children and grandchildren and shared stories about this amazing man, Jesus. Our charming painting depicts three generations of the farmer’s family: the grandfather and grandmother (dressed in black in the background), the daughter on the left holding a canister of milk, and the grandchildren.
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