(Jesus said to them), Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Luke 10:2.
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Jesus’ words above from today’s gospel are as if he were talking to each one of us today in the 21st century. And I think this painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon, an artist previously unknown to me, seems to capture the essence of Jesus’ words. Haydon was a British painter active in the first half of the 19th century. Incredibly, he painted works such as this Entry Into Jerusalem without a commission, in the hope of selling it after completion. The results were mixed, ultimately ending up in poverty and suicide. But this painting could almost be autobiographical, if unintended. If you look closely on the right hand side, there is a familiar face from history, François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume, Voltaire:
Voltaire, Vintage Design Pics.
Though a baptized Catholic and educated by the Jesuits, Voltaire was a scourge to the Catholic Church throughout his life and even worse against Islam. The point is, Jesus is entering Jerusalem in the picture above, being greeted by an adoring crowd, but which crowd, within only one week, will be baying for his blood. So when Jesus says to his followers that they will be like lambs among wolves, he could well have been talking also about himself! And so there is Voltaire, ready to condemn and criticize the organization which based, and bases, itself on Jesus’ teachings, skeptically watching Jesus enter into his Passion. It is said that Voltaire is between Keats and Wordsworth, two Romanic poets, friends of Haydon, who had also turned away from established religion in favor of their own ideas of the transcendent. Take this thought up to today where we find Christians beset with indifference, temptations, ridicule, even hostility. So, as ever, Jesus’ words apply to us also, today, in the 21st century, as they did 200 years ago, as they did 2000 years ago. Plus ça change.…
But there is more than gloom in today’s readings. True, established religion in the more advanced countries is in trouble, but for those who do accept a reality beyond our own senses (and perhaps even within them), there can be joy in life and fulfillment, as witnessed in the first reading today. And look at the conclusion of the longer version of today’s gospel: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said,”Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky”. It seems that even the lambs amid a gang of wolves can find fulfillment and even happiness. That is the power of the Lamb – the Lamb of God. Remember it is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. With sin taken away, grace is left; remember that sin is the absence of God. With no sin, we are in the presence of God – the state of grace. That could be taken as the definition of true happiness. And that brings us to the heart of today’s gospel. It is the obligation of every believer to demonstrate in his or her life the fundamental joy of life in God. That can be seen in quiet acceptance and response to challenges, treating everybody with care and dignity, even if they do not deserve it, displaying trust in God even when there seems to be no God present, and, fundamentally, a rock solid certainly that God is on our side, encouraging us, supporting us and guiding us to the ultimate goal of eternal peace and happiness, some of which we will have already tasted in this life. And in achieving all that, we should share as much of all that as possible with those around us, believers or not.
Lamb Among Wolves, Universal Peace Window, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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