Peter Brueghel the younger (1563 – 1638)
The Seven Acts of Mercy
National Museum of Ancient Art Santos-o-Velho,
Estrela, Lisbon, Portugal
Pieter Brueghel was a Flemish Artist who lived at the turn of the 16th century to 17th He was the son of more Famous Father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder
He painted landscapes, religious subjects, proverbs and village scenes. A few flower still life paintings by Pieter have been recorded. His genre paintings of peasants emphasize the picturesque and are regarded by some as lacking Pieter the Elder's subtlety and humanism.
He and his workshop were prolific copyists of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's most famous compositions. His name and work were largely forgotten in the 18th and 19th centuries until he was rediscovered in the first half of the 20th century.
The picture clearly presents the 7 corporal works of Mercy:
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To harbour the harbourless
To visit the sick
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead
The colourful style and exaggerated proportions of the subjects makes the picture almost cartoon like but still a credible representation of the poor and needy and those offering succour. There are quite a few nuns in the picture and an interesting character with a birth defect in the front reaching out for food. The village looks clean and organised even though it has become a hub of charity. The poor form orderly queues and the artist has helpfully cut away walls so the inside of the house where there is visiting the sick going on and the prison interiors can be appreciated. There is a great deal of detail, expressions on characters faces, animals presenting almost a snapshot of life in a Flemish village in the early 17th century. They make me think they would make good pictures for jigsaws.
The painting is in the National Museum of Ancient Art Santos-o-Velho, Estrela, Lisbon, Portugal (Oil on wood, painted circa 1616 -1638).
Mark 9 : 38-50
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name
and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.  45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.  47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
49 Everyone will be salted with fire.
50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with each other.”
This week the Gospel covers the last 20 verses of Mark 9, which started with the dramatic transfiguration and covered Christ predicting his passion, death and resurrection as well has several lessons in discipleship. What is striking is throughout these events the Apostles and disciples show little understanding of the real nature of Christ and his mission to suffer and die to save us from our sins.
This Gospel has three themes:
Christ’s tolerance of outsiders working miracles in his name
Welcoming the lowly in society
Consideration of preventing sin
John informs on a man he has seen casting out devils in the name of Christ and he questions Jesus about the behaviour and admits they tried to stop him. Christ admonishes him saying he shouldn’t try to stop him as he believes anyone who wants to work miracles in his name must be an ally not an adversary. He goes on to say the often-quoted line: those who are for us are not against us. It is likely that Jesus wanted to discourage exclusivity and cliques.
This text corresponds to the Old Testament reading from the Book of Numbers this week. In this story two men, Eldad and Medad are reported to Moses as prophesying without permission and Moses asks Joshua if he is jealous on his account, and then Moses laments if only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his spirit to them all. Another example of Christ extending and building on the teachings in the Old Testament.
The second discipleship lesson is around charity: whatever good even to giving a cup of water and you do it in my name will be rewarded, especially if you do it to a little one, in the text it is written as a child, but, child could be a metaphor for a vulnerable and lowly person without legal status and therefore helpless, such as a servant. Again, Jesus is emphasising the lesson that to be a follower of his you need to serve even the humblest of people.
Finally, Jesus speaks about sinning or bringing about a downfall of an innocent, which in some texts is referred to as scandalising from the very scandalise, meaning to cause to sin or to put an obstacle in front of. Jesus recites a litany of examples going around the body the hand, the foot, eye saying better to live with just one limb or eye than have both but be a sinner. He considers this to be so heinous a sin that several gruesome penances would be preferable, cutting off a limb, being drowned by a heavy weight, burning in hellfire, although this last one and a reference to the merits of being seasoned as salt is omitted from the text for this Sunday’s Gospel. Which is curious that it is omitted because there is a vivid reference to the merits of people being the salt of the earth in Matthew 5:13, since Matthew’s Gospel is written after Mark’s maybe this was the source for expansion on this point. In Mark, Jesus says hell fire will at the same time punish and purge the sinner, that ‘he will be salted by fire’. In this text though the reference to salt is with respect to its seasoning properties rather than preserving. Jesus says have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.
Marks gospel was the first to be written and it is interesting that all but 40 verses are repeated in Matthew and half of Luke is a copy from Mark. There has been much discussion among scholars as to the critical nature of Mark’s recounting of the behaviour of the Apostles. Some suggest that the evangelist took this approach to raise the issue of misunderstanding Christ so that disciples and evangelists would know how to address criticism and difficult questions. Others say the Apostles were used as ‘ciphers’ by Mark to repudiate false or heretical views of his day and the Jewish Christian of the time. What ever the reason it is clear the apostles didn’t understand fully Christ and his role on earth until be patiently took each of their questions and explained and clarified.
The personal message I took from this gospel was to ask myself would I have questioned Christ, would I have expected to be part of a special group and wary of those not in our circle being approved of to play the role our teacher was giving to us. Would I have fully appreciated the Servant King. Sadly I think not I would probably have been half listening and not contemplating.
I am also considering how I can serve. The US President Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” by employing our hands we are conscious of what they are doing so we can ensure we use them for God’s Glory. Mother Teresa used to say Do something beautiful for God and I think it is a conscious decision every waking hour to monitor our behaviour so at the end of the day we have achieved something beautiful for God.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Saint Teresa of Avila
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labour and not to seek reward,
Except that of knowing that I do your will
Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Jesus gives his disciples a command how would you react to his commands, would you question him, or just accept them?
Is the Christ you hear in the Gospel the Christ you know or is he challenging your perception of him?
Do you sometimes inform on people you think are acting on their own authority and not behaving as you think appropriately? Is there a lesson you can learn from the tolerance shown by Jesus, have you or will you stop to consider if what they are doing is harmless or even positive even though they have acted on self-authority?
What is your perception and treatment of the messenger or seemingly insignificant people?
Would you give yourself a strict penance to prevent you from falling into sin?
How can I use my hands, feet, eyes, able body, intellect senses to service the needy and evangelise for Christ?