The Holy Women at the Tomb,
Painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905),
Painted in 1890,
Oil on canvas
© Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium
The women who accompanied Jesus
Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.
Reflection on the painting
In our Gospel reading today Luke names three Galilean women as followers of Jesus alongside the twelve apostles: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. The first two appear in the passion/resurrection narrative, as depicted in our painting. They symbolise the thousands who have served Christ's Church from the very beginning alongside the apostles. The infant Church was a Church constantly on the move to spread the Good News. It was made up of ordinary women and men, rich and poor, sick and healthy, who all wanted their lives to be centered around the person of Jesus.
Our painting depicts three woman (Mary the Mother of James, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Cleophas), at the tomb after the resurrection. As a viewer we are meant to look up to the painting, seeing the perspective in which the scene is drawn. The painting was to be admired from a kneeling position looking upwards. We see bewilderment on the central figure of Mary Magdalene, who is looking caringly straight into the tomb, with the angel's light shining upon her. We feel as if we have just stumbled on the event and are witnessing live what is going on. This painting was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1890 and was admired for its tour de force in terms of perspective and foreshortening, which can be clearly seen in the severe angle of the tomb entranceway.
Jesus was an itinerant preacher who was dependent on his followers for food, shelter, company… In our gospel reading, we hear of a group women who weren’t poor and provided for Jesus and his disciples. They had material resources. One of them was the wife of the chief steward of Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. Even though they seem to be better off than many of their contemporaries, they were not attached to their wealth and generously shared what they had. The gospel reading says that they provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their resources.
All of these woman had experienced the healing power of Jesus in their lives, and this was their way of expressing their gratitude to him. Today’s reading prompts us to realise that it is not what we possess that matters so much, but what we do with what we possess.
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