One-hundred-and-forty years ago an English artist, William Holman Hunt, traveled to the holy land for artistic inspiration as well as personal devotion. His purpose was to “use my powers to make more tangible Jesus Christ’s history and teaching.”*
While there he produced three paintings, the most famous being “The Shadow of the Cross.”
The artist depicts Jesus in his workshop in Nazareth. The day is almost over, and the last rays of the setting sun stream in through the open door. The young Jesus, who has been sawing wood, raises himself for a moment stretches out his arms. Just then the dying sun catches his image and casts his shadow on the wall behind him. Mary, his mother, looks up from the floor where she is kneeling and sees the shadow of her son in the form of a cross.
In 1994, a small version of “The Deepening Shadow” sold for almost 3,000,000 dollars.
On Wednesday of holy week, Jesus is fully aware of the deepening shadows about him. He tells his disciples “The feast of Passover begins in two days. That is when the Son of Man is handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 22:2, The Voice).
In response to Jesus’ actions in the first part of the week, secret and evil events took place on Wednesday.
First, the plot to kill Jesus: “And almost as He spoke, the chief priests were getting together with the elders at the home of the high priest, Caiaphas. They schemed and mused about how they could trick Jesus, sneak around and capture Him, and then kill Him” (Matthew 22:3-4, The Voice).
By cleaning the Temple, Jesus showed the people the presence and worship of God free of corruption. The actions of Jesus threatened the chief priests and elders. They would rather be rid of Jesus than to give up power, position, and prestige. They told themselves they were protecting the faith, but, in fact, they were rejecting God’s plan.
Let this be a cautionary tale for us. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking we are protecting God’s people and purpose when, in fact, we are only promoting ourselves.
Second, the betrayal of Judas. Jesus honored a woman who poured perfume on him, demonstrating her extravagant love. This tipped the scale for Judas, “At that, one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests.” Judas said to them, “‘what will you give me to turn Him over to you?’ They offered him 30 pieces of silver. And from that moment, he began to watch for a chance to betray Jesus” (Matthew 22:14-16, The Voice).
When Jesus honored a woman for worshiping him, it was the final straw for Judas. Like any other human being, it was not one moment that caused him to betray but a series of disappointments. His motives were complex – greed, jealousy, and bitterness. Jesus was not the Messiah he signed up to serve.
Let this be a personal warning to all of us. When greed, jealousy, or bitterness takes root in the soul, we produce a life of attitudes and actions that betray the people and faith we once loved.
In the foreground of the deepening shadows of a sinister plot and bitter betrayal, we look in on a beautiful…
Moment of Extravagant Love
At the home of familiar friends and followers, a woman displays her worship and adoration for Jesus, “she had an alabaster flask of very valuable ointment with her, and as Jesus reclined at the table, she poured the ointment on His head” (Matthew 21:7, The Voice).
Let this be a call to worship for all God’s people. On this most holy of weeks, as we re-member (join again) the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, let our souls be extravagant in love. Let us find a way to go beyond the ordinary in our worship of Jesus.
Prayer for Holy Week: Lord, many of us live in the midst of deepening shadows. It is tempting to focus only on the negative, the hurtful, and the turncoats. Lord, for a moment, for a moment in this holy week, let us throw caution aside and worship you with extravagant love.
*The quote is from Hunt, W.H., Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; London: Macmillan; 1905, vol. 1 p 349E
Copyright, 2014, © Richard Leslie Parrott