Sunday, July 21, 2019

Luke 12.32-40: Napping

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. All are sentiments expressed in the gospel reading for Proper 14C/Ordinary 19C (Luke 12:32-40). All emphasize the need to be awake, watchful, alert. This is not the only text that bids Christians to stay awake.

But who of us doesn't enjoy a nap? My father believed that there was no such thing as a bad nap...just one that was too short.
Nicolaes Maes. Dame agee assoupie (Old Woman Dozing). c. 1655. Brussels: Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts. 
Nicolaes Maes was fond of the subject of dozing women. He painted the subject more than once and more than once used this woman as his model. Because she appears in several paintings, some historians speculate that the model was, perhaps, the artist's mother. She is peacefully napping, having set aside her lacemaking as well as the book in her lap and the open Bible on the table. I would hope we would not begrudge this woman an afternoon nap. 

Maes stands in the same tradition that produced the still life/vanitas pictures, so we can find clues to an additional meaning by putting together the elements the artist has included in the picture. First, the abandoned lacemaking has moved the woman from industry and productivity to idleness. The Bible is open to Amos, a prophet who warned that when the nation failed to follow God's moral commandments, then the relationship between God and people was in danger of being dissolved. On the table an hourglass reminds the viewer that time is running out, especially for this older woman. She should be more industrious, especially as she will (presumably) be meeting her maker sooner rather than later and be called to account for her life on earth. Napping in the daytime is at least a waste of time and could be considered sinful. 

Where we might understand napping as a "battery recharge," her nap seems to symbolize sloth. Is napping as bad as all that? Certainly she does not embody the alertness called for in the gospel reading. Should the thief (or Jesus) choose this moment to come into her home, she will no doubt miss the entire thing. 

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