Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mark 5.21-43: Emphasizing the Most Important Part...What is the Most Important Part?

The gospel reading for Proper 8/Ordinary 13B/Pentecost 5 is the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:21-43). It is a remarkable story that foreshadows the coming moments of resurrection that are part of the Christian story. We can imagine the setting with the anxious parents, the hovering crowd, the despair and sorrow in the house. Then Jesus arrives and what happens next is surprising, to say the least.

Miracles are often unsatisfying as subjects for artists because the miraculous moment may not come with any visible component. Nevertheless miraculous subjects are undertaken by painters, and the raising of Jairus' daughter is no exception. The 12-year-old is usually wearing a white garment or swaddled in white fabric. Sometimes the parents are shown, sometimes the mourners.
Gabriel Max. The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus. 1881. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum.
In this version by Gabriel Max, Jairus' daughter is clearly the focal point. The bright white of both fabric and skin tone draws attention to that part of the painting. It is balanced by a velvety darkness. Almost lost in that darkness is the figure of Christ. His hands reach out to the girl's hands, and his face is unnaturally illuminated, appearing almost mask-like.

This version of the story raises some questions. Is it important to see the figure of Christ? Is his importance being lessened by this treatment? Which is more important - the doer of the act or the one acted upon? Would Jesus be pleased that the emphasis on the painting is the girl who once was dead but is now alive? What is the most important part of the story?

For thoughts on David's lament over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27), click here.

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