Fool of God
Here is a digital image of a very small painting. In a garden at night Jesus is praying, his body wrapped over rocks in agony. It is a scene from Gethsemane, the night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus’ body is portrayed using a single brush stroke. The reddy-brown colour of his clothes, and the red of his hands, feet and head, contrast (and are colour opposites) with the blues and olive greens of the background.
The image references the Old Testament story of God asking Abraham to take his son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. In that story Abraham ties his son to the rock, and at the last moment God provides a ram as a substitute in the sacrifice. Here Jesus is held to the rock through his obedience to the will of the Father. His prayer is deep and agonised, and he begs to be relieved of the ‘cup of suffering’ he is about to drink from. There will be no release, no alternative.
During the journey Jesus made to Jerusalem, he had spoken to his disciples about the call to drink from the cup he was about to drink. To follow Jesus is then to know moments like this one, to know and share in his suffering, and to enter the depths of prayer that come with a lived faithfulness to the call of God.
The original is oil on paper, called ‘Fool of God (Christ in the Garden)’, by Mark Cazalet (1964- ). The picture is tiny, 18cm square, and is © Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. The Methodist Church Registered Charity no. 1132208
The title refers to the Russian idea of ‘Holy Fools’, who ‘set God’s will above worldly wisdom, even to the point of martyrdom’. In this picture Cazalet is seeking to capture the ‘moment of (Christ’s) most profound incarnation, fully in dread at the fate he knew would come as a man, yet faithful and obedient in his divine fulfilment of the sacrifice’.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
This light is muffled, muted, murky, dense,
Thick with a threat of thunder unreleased.
The clouds are darkening, the air grows tense,
The coming storm is lowering in the east
Something within me trembles too, and pales,
Though no one sees the brooding darkness there,
Or feels the tension building between poles
Of faith and doubt, of vision and despair.
Everything deepens, gathers to a head:
Anguish and anger at my absent God
Until the charge of all that’s left unsaid
Leaps out at last to find its lightening rod.
But even as the skies are rent and riven
I find that lightening rod is earthed in heaven.
Malcolm Guite, Reverséd Thunder