Children playing cards,
Painted by Antonio Ermolao Paoletti (1834–1912),
Painted circa 1893,
Oil on canvas
© Dorotheum Vienna, 21 April 2016, sold for €5,600
It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place
Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:
“We played the pipes for you,
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t be mourners.”
‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’
Reflection on the Painting
Our late 19th-century painting by Venetian artist Antonio Paoletti depicts two boys playing cards. This charming scene also carries some sadness. The boys are obviously poor, maybe even homeless. An empty bowl stands near us, the viewer, almost asking us to fill it. A loose slipper perhaps belongs to a third boy not depicted? The two boys are engaged at playing with each other and having fun, but the children Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading today are impossible to please. They are spoilt. Music was played for them but they wouldn’t sing or dance. Whether the music was cheerful or mournful, they didn’t want to participate and just stood stubbornly aside, refusing to engage with what was going on in the market place.
Does the same go for us? We hear the word of St John the Baptist and his message, but are we still unwilling to participate and rejoice in it? Maybe people find the preaching of St John and Jesus all too much to cope with, so they would rather not engage with it and be challenged? But this reading is also about each of us: is there any area of my life in which I don’t like being challenged by Jesus? Do I participate in certain things, but not in everything that our Christian faith is calling us to?
During this time of Advent, we are preparing for the coming of the Good News… so when Jesus will be born in two weeks’ time, will that Good News find an echo in our hearts and will we welcome God’s kingdom with the heart of a child?
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