Jesus and the Rich Young Man,
Illuminated manuscript page from the Codex of Predis,
Illuminations by Cristoforo de Predis (1440-1486),
Executed in 1476,
Ink, paint and gilt highlights on vellum
© Royal Library, Turin
If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own
There was a man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said, ‘Which?’ ‘These:’ Jesus replied ‘You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Reflection on the illuminated manuscript page
Sometimes in our Gospel readings when people ask Jesus a question, it is with the intent to trick Jesus. They try to trip him up, instead of wanting to learn. In our reading today, the question of the young rich man is very different. His question comes from a genuinely good place. He is keen to be taught and learn what path in life he should take. He is already living a good and loving life, but deep inside he senses that he could do more. How beautiful. Jesus tells him ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor’. All we know is that the young man went away sad. We don’t know what happened to him after. Maybe his possessions possessed him and he didn’t follow Jesus’ advise? Who knows. All of us can be held back in all kinds of ways, by all sorts of excessive attachments. None of these however should hold us back to truly respond to God’s call and fulfil the plan he has for us.
Our artwork is a detail of an Italian illuminated manuscript page from 1476. Painted by Cristoforo de Predis (1440-1486), who was born deaf and mute, we see the young man taking off his hat in reverence to Jesus. Jesus is clearly seen engaging. His left hand is gesturing ‘ok, well, there is the life you have now’, with his right hand is pointing upwards implying ‘or there is the higher path you can take, but that will require to sell everything’. Cristoforo de Predis was one of the best North Italian manuscript illustrators at the time.
The de Predis family hosted Leonardo da Vinci when he visited Milan for the commission Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo met Cristoforo on that occasion. Leonardo later wrote about 'what can be learned from deaf and mute people' in his Treatise on Painting (Trattato della pittura).
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