Repentance – 9 December 2019

A distressed young woman is shown crouching at the feet of an old woman. This woman, elderly and pale-faced, bends her head towards the young woman with compassion. She has placed her right hand on the younger woman’s head, while she steadies herself by resting her left arm on the bed.

This painting, ‘Repentance’ (1914), is by the Croatian artist Valho Bukovac. The narrative tension of the picture is enhanced when we notice that the young woman is reading a letter (a crumpled envelope lies on the floor). Who is it from – lover, friend, relative? The letter has several pages, whoever has written it has taken time to explain what is not right at length. How we ‘read’ this picture will relate to our presuppositions, and who we imagine the ‘sinner’ to be. Is it the young woman, or could it be the writer of the letter? Whose ‘repentance’ does this picture refer to?

Finally, note what a hospitable space this room is. Everything is clean, cups and saucers are ready for use on the chest of drawers. A basket of mending, set aside to give attention to the one in distress, sits next to the old woman. She is the gentle center of this picture, welcoming and kind.

 

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.

Psalm 51:10-13