Precipice – 31 January 2022
This picture is an illustration of an event in Luke 4, where all the men in the synagogue at Nazareth are incensed by what Jesus says to them, and take him out of the town (his home town) to the brow of a hill, intending to throw him off the cliff to his death.
The land rises from the bottom of the picture to the top. The path fills the width of the picture, then narrows to disappear over the ridge of the hill. All along the path there are men who are agitated and angry, their gestures animated. To the right there is a great chasm, the bottom of which cannot be seen. The agitated crowd is so close to the edge of the path, that some or all of those present might fall at any moment. They are on the precipice, but do not realise.
Jesus is not in this picture. The narrative says that he has just ‘passed through the midst of them and went of his way.’ Rather, concerned with rejecting his message, the crowd has not noticed. This story and this image mirrors the story and images of the crowd that call, at the end of his ministry, for his crucifixion.
The illustration is one of a series in the Brooklyn Museum by the French realist artist James Tissot (1886-1896). After returning to Catholicism in 1885, Tissot’s illustrations sought to root the story of Jesus in the landscapes and settings of the Middle East.
When they heard Jesus, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
My sun has set, I dwell
In darkness as a dead man out of sight;
And none remains, not one, that I should tell
To him mine evil plight
This bitter night.
I will make fast my door
That hollow friends may trouble me no more.
“Friend, open to Me.”–Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
Others were dear,
Others forsook me: what art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry should feed,
Or stranger lodge thee here?
“Friend, My Feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.”
I will not open, trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not rise and open unto thee.
“Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My Face
And howl for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now.
Open to Me.”
Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou mayst have.
Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What, shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?
But all night long that voice spake urgently:
“Open to Me.”
Still harping in mine ears:
“Rise, let Me in.”
Pleading with tears:
“Open to Me that I may come to thee.”
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
“My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.”
So till the break of day:
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Passed me by,
Lingering footsteps slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood forevermore.
Christina Rossetti, Despised and rejected