Christ in the Desert,
Painted by Ivan Kramskoi (1837-1887),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1872
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Christ in the Desert,
Painted by Ivan Kramskoi (1837-1887),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1872
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Gospel of 15 January 2020

Long before dawn he got up to pray

Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.

Reflection on the Painting

Today’s Gospel reading tells us a lot about the way Jesus did His ministry. The disciples tell Jesus: ‘‘Everybody is looking for you’. With a long line of people waiting outside to be healed, what does Jesus do? He wants to move on to another place. He preaches, heals and moves on. He preaches, heals and moves on, over and over again… Jesus thus demonstrates that we can’t do it all when we help to spread His word. We can’t reach everyone. Or even if we were to reach everyone, not everyone would listen. So we have to keep moving and go where the Spirit is sending us, even if it means people are still going to be in need in the place you left behind…

The other sentence that stands out is ‘In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there’. Jesus wanted to leave very early, to avoid the crowds and have time to pray. Time and time again in the Gospels we hear about Jesus going away to spend time on his own with His Father in prayer. Jesus nurtured His own spiritual connection with his Heavenly Father and carefully looked after His own prayer life. If Jesus could find the time to care for his spiritual life, how much more can we find the time...

Our painting shows Jesus praying, having moved on from the villages. Ivan Kramskoy painted this in 1872 and used primarily cold colours to reflect the early morning chilly dawn in the background. The thoughtful figure of Christ is wearing a dark cloak and a red tunic underneath, symbolic for His passion which was to come. The painting emphasises Jesus’ human nature and features His mind in action, in-between the physical demands of His ministry. This is not a heroic, victorious Christ. He is portrayed as a humble, simple, human Christ with a tired facial expression… but yet his head against the soft skies and above the rocky earth, already reveals His true majesty and force…

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