Social contrasts – 26 September 2022
In a fine restaurant a couple sit at table together. They are eating a meal, a lunch maybe, with wine. They are well dressed, well groomed and well mannered. The woman pays attention to the man, her eyes on his face. He is speaking as he cuts into his food. The table at which they are seated is by a window, this means that they and their meal are well lit. Engrossed in each other and the food before them they do not even glance out of the window into the street.
Outside a young man stands and looks at their food. He is not interested in the couple. He is cold and hungry, his stance, and his buttoned up jacket, show us what he needs and what is on his mind.
The picture causes us to wonder what might make the couple notice the man, and if they see him, how will they respond? And the man himself, might he try to get their attention, and so their assistance?
This picture is intentionally about social contrasts, indeed the chasm between rich and poor, those with and those without. Such contrasts have existed in every society, some wider than others. It was painted to prompt people to see what was around them, in this case the needs of the poorest.
The picture is Reflections of a Starving Man or Social Contrasts, (Reflexionen eines verhungernden Mannes oder soziale Kontraste)1894 by Emilio Longoni, an Italian Divisionist painter.
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.
Reverend Victoria Safford, The Gates of Hope