A couple of days ago, on a whim, I took off to a parish not my own and spoke with the priest there, whom I know well, for six hours, quite a bit of which conversation was about his paintings, he being an artist. However, before that, he gave me a fairly extensive tour of the church, in which I had never been previously. Very peaceful. There are lots of spectacularly clever methods of securing the premises. His parish is in the epicenter for crime in his area. I’m gonna have to go back and take notes.
Anyway, having offered me a coffee, we went over to the rectory and got into the essence of artistry and church architecture and lifting hearts and souls to the Lord, both art and how it is presented and how architecture can teach and guide souls. You’re never too old to learn, I say, with me getting old altogether.
Some of his paintings are practice for this or that method, technique, an imitation of another artist to broaden one’s own logistical wherewithal. Such is the case with the painting above. Consider that copyrighted 2022 by myself for future publication in a book on women in Sacred Scripture. I asked him about this and he agreed when he listened of my instantaneous reaction to this particular painting of a simple flask.
Mine was a spiritual experience. I knew I was looking at the very soul of the “spikenard woman” in the Gospels the second before she poured out her spikenard over Jesus. Let’s recall that incident (Mt 26:6-12):
- Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.” Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.”
What she saw is the Messiah, Jesus, God Incarnate, our Redeemer, our Savior, the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah She beheld Jesus as the One is who is so good and kind, leading us to know the truth, for He is Truth Incarnate.
She also saw the disciples, and Judas, and knew they didn’t get it. They were too obtuse, oblivious, even malicious. They would all run away, Peter denying Jesus, Judas betraying Him. And it was going to happen now. It’s happening NOW. They’re going to do their part in having Jesus tortured to death right NOW. And, indeed, it is at this moment that Judas left to betray Jesus.
What can she do? She had to do something! NOW! She had spikenard. She had to pour it over Jesus NOW, for He is so dead, already a corpse. He will be buried with that spikenard upon Him.
Whatever her past was… [controversies rage!], right now she was spectacularly pure of heart, agile of soul, clear in her spiritual sight, profound in her understanding. Might I add fortitude? In pouring this spikenard over Jesus with alacrity in the face of the murderous greed round about, at least for thirty pieces of silver, she was endangering herself. If they are going to do away with Jesus, what could they, would they do to her. She didn’t care. She had to take care of Jesus. If He’s laying down His life for her, the least she can do is honor Him in His burial.
Back to the painting. As I say, for me, instantaneously, this was not an empty still life, a lack of flowers and such, merely a flask on a boring background. No, no. This is a snapshot of her soul the second before she poured the spikenard contents of this alabaster jar upon Jesus. The vibrant green color represents her faith, evergreen, living. The spikenard inside is very love of God that Jesus had already established in her soul, as it were, sanctifying grace. The background is, for me, the sepulcher in which Jesus was about to be placed, the slab on which His body anointed with the spikenard would lay, and the back wall of the dark tomb hewn out of the rock a stone’s throw from Calvary, where He would be tortured to death, and which was in the same quarry.
One second later after she realized Jesus was a dead Man already, she had just that quickly poured out the contents over Jesus.
When I see that painting, I’m seeing the soul of a saint, one of our great intercessors in heaven, right now, cheering us on that we might make it to heaven, finally being brought as well into humble thanksgiving to Jesus. What she did is a reprimand to us that we might be like those disciples who couldn’t care about Jesus, but who congratulate ourselves about our following of Jesus. She shows us how it’s done.
Thank you, spikenard woman, you who risked everything to honor Jesus, also giving witness to us. Thank you.
I was very taken that I was gifted this painting. He gave me instructions on what not to do in cleaning it, but what can be done.
By the way, the frame is exquisite. Black and gold, darkness and light, the light radiating through into the darkness, dispelling the darkness. Simple. Effective. Take a look at the back:
Professionally made to endure. And what this woman did to honor Jesus will be spoken about will be proclaimed to the whole world with the Good News, the Gospel. The good news is that Jesus can make it so that we also have purity of heart, agility of soul, clarity of vision, profundity of understanding, and we can hope that He will bring us through death to life in heaven, giving us as a gift to our heavenly Father.