Hieronymus Bosch has succeeded in portraying something few other painters have come near achieving. He beautifully and compelling conveys the peaceful heart of Jesus, content to accept and receive all our scorn and its resulting pain. Bosch has captured the pure heart of Jesus, a vision of which Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jonathan Daniels were given a glimpse, and which shaped how they lived as well as how they died.
With sustained attention to the composition of the painting you will notice a significant detail. The faces of seventeen people appear in the painting, not counting Jesus nor his image on the legendary Veronica’s towel. Seventeen people who are part of the crowd, and not one of them is looking at Jesus! Not even the man with the orange hat in the left center of the painting. Though he is facing Jesus, his eyes are turned upward toward the man with whom he is apparently talking. A crowd full of agitated people, with Jesus in the middle, and not one of them is focused on him. In other words, all of them are focused on their own concerns and purposes. Though Jesus came into a world so in need of him, and into a city filled with human problems, the people around him are heedless to his significance. And yet, for them, for those who are happy to push him to his death, he will carry his cross.
As I reflect on this painting, I am challenged to consider which persons in Bosch’s crowd best represent me. And then, I am moved to think about how Jesus provided God’s self-portrait for the world.
Ask yourself: Do I embrace Jesus in the same way Bosch portrays Jesus holding his cross? Are my eyes usually focused on other people, and on other things, rather than on him? How often do I let pettiness, anger, jealousy and boredom take center stage in my attention, rather than a vision of the peaceful heart of Jesus? It helps to remember that, no matter what, he holds on to us just like he holds that cross.
The above painting is Christ Carrying the Cross, by Hieronymus Bosch, 1515. For my Palm Sunday homily, which makes reference to this painting, click here.