Going to Church,
Painted by William H. Johnson (1901-1970),
Gouache on paper,
Executed in 1940/1941
© The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.
‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’
Reflection on the gouache on paper
Beautiful in its simplicity, yet very effective, colourful and joyful to look at, our gouache on paper by William H. Johnson from 1940 shows how that art doesn’t always have to be ‘high’ art loaded with meaningful thoughts, ideas or layers. Sometimes painting of this genre are called 'naïve', referring to their simple and unsophisticated character. Yet it is a slightly dismissive way to talk about this type of art. It does, however, work to the extent that Naïve Art refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy. Most art has merit, however intensely the artist has been academically formed or not. I say 'most' art has merit, and not 'all' art has merit, as unfortunately we can all think of artworks which should never have been made.
Probably the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel ‘for where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them’ are most applicable when we gather together in church for prayer or mass. A community gathers in the Lord’s name and Jesus tells us He is present, there and then with all of us. The painting is called Going to Church, a simple depiction of a family travelling by mule and cart to church in 1940. The artist, William H Johnson, whilst initially not having any art training, eventually ended up learning his skills at the National Academy of Design in New York and paved the way for other black artists to follow suit and break into the mainstream art-world. He was a pioneer and is now being recognised as one of the foremost African-American artists and a major figure in 20th-century American art.
Jesus is telling us in today’s reading, not only that he is present when we gather in his name, but also that this comes with a responsibility towards one another. By being members of the Church community, we have to look after each other, be kind and generous towards each other. Believing in him, comes with social responsibility for our families and in our neighbourhoods.
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