Primroses and Bird's Nests,
Painted by William Henry Hunt (1790-1864),
Painted circa 1850,
Watercolour on paper
© Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The birds of the air have nests
As Jesus and his disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Reflection on the watercolour on paper
As Jesus walked his way through Israel, a whole company of people followed Him, not only the twelve Apostles. From time to time various people would come to Jesus asking if they could follow him. Jesus' reply seems harsh at first: 'Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head'. He is telling us that following him means putting up with the hardships and self-denial that come with following his path. We can't say: When my husband gets better, then I will follow you; or when my son graduates, then I will follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about the here and now. Today is the day.
The watercolour on paper we are looking at today is by William Hunt, whose nickname was 'Birds' Nest Hunt' because he specialised in the kind of detailed view of twigs, moss and branches shown in this watercolour. The brilliant, naturalistic colour and illusionistic precision resulted largely from Hunt's innovative technical virtuosity, in particular his exploration of layering different paints, gums, gouaches all on top of each other, scraping away areas and then adding new layers.
A bird in a nest may be secure, but that is not why God gave it wings….
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