Painted by Tom Wesselman (1931-2004),
Painted in 1966,
Oil on canvas
© Sotheby’s New York, May 2013, Lot 19, sold for $1,085,000
All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’
Reflection on the Pop Art canvas
Jesus says in today’s reading, ‘All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no’. It is true: we don’t always find it easy to be truthful, to be true to what is in our heart. The words we speak do not always express what is in our heart. Of course at times we can’t say exactly what is in our mind, as we have to be kind and generous towards other people. But Jesus is talking about something else here: he wants us to first to get right what is in our hearts. If we focus on shaping our hearts towards the Kingdom of God, the words we speak will follow. And then our ‘yes’ will mean yes, and our ‘no’ will be a proper no. We need to let the truth and beauty of the Gospels take root in our hearts.
Whereas our reading yesterday focussed on the eye, today's focusses on the heart. If we get both right, the words on our lips will follow. Those are the dynamics of the spiritual life. In bodily terms: from the eye to the heart, to the lips.
Our painting from 1966 is by Tom Wesselman and a quintessential example of Pop Art. His Mouth series show enlarged, shaped canvasses of lips in the act of conveying emotion. Some may even see these canvasses as seductive. This hyper-realistic canvas has an almost sculptural quality to it.
Today’s reading also reminded me of this quote by Ignatius of Antioch: ‘Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart!’
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Readings related to Matthew 5:33-37
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