The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1880
© La Rochelle Cathedral, France

The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1880
© La Rochelle Cathedral, France

Gospel of 9 December 2020

I am gentle and humble in heart

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said, 'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.'

Reflection on the Painting

Today's reading holds one of the most beautiful ways in which Jesus describes Himself: 'I am gentle and humble in heart". These few words sum up Jesus' whole being and mission. 

Jesus' gentleness doesn't mean weakness or being passive and all-accepting. True gentleness is just the opposite. It requires great strength, rigour and self-control. Gentleness comes from a state of having love for others. We can teach ourselves to be gentle by being more loving to others. It goes beyond just having a nice 'gentle' disposition. Gentleness comes from an abundance and overflowing of love.

Jesus is the perfect example of humility. Jesus, being fully divine, chose to come down to earth, out of His great love for us, as fully human. Jesus even chose to obey the will of His Father to the point of dying a painful death on the cross for our sins. Our painting is the ultimate humiliation He suffered for us, being flagellated in public. 

Our giant canvas (309 x 212 cm. / 121 x 83 in.) is one of Bouguereau's masterpieces and hangs at the Baptistery of La Rochelle Cathedral, France. In my view, it is one of the best flagellation paintings ever made. Christ is tied to a column and simply hangs there, with His feet dragging on the ground and head tilting back. In all humility, He submits to His fate. Two men are seen in mid-swing, whipping Him. A third man is kneeling fastening birch branches for the next stage of the torture. There is more pain and suffering to come. Unlike the two men who are whipping, our kneeling man already shows some expression of remorse for his actions. Christ's eyes are vacant of expression. His skin is pale, already foretelling His death. Through the crowd, a bearded man looks directly at us. It is thought that this bearded man is a self portrait of the artist… just like the viewer looking on at what Christ did for us...

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