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11.22.2020 Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Ghent Altarpiece

Hubert and Jan van Eyck

1432

Saint Bavo’s Cathedral - Ghent

Belgium


The Ghent Altarpiece is a large and complex 15th-century polyptych altarpiece in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. It was begun c. the mid-1420s and completed by 1432, and is attributed to the Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The altarpiece is considered a masterpiece of European art and one of the world's treasures.


The panels are organised in two vertical registers and the upper register of the inner panels represent the heavenly redemption, and include the central Deësis, a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty or Christ Pantocrator: enthroned, carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist.


The figure looks towards the viewer with his hand raised in blessing, in a panel filled with inscriptions and symbols. There are Greek inscriptions decorated with pearls on the hem of his robe or mantle, which, taken from Revelation, read REX REGUM ET DOMINUS DOMINANTIUM ("King of Kings, and Lord of Lords")


The golden brocade on the throne features pelicans and vine, probable references to the blood spilled during the Crucifixion of Jesus. Pelicans were at the time believed to spill their own blood to feed their young. The vines allude to sacramental vine, the eucharistic symbol of Christ's blood.


The crown is at his feet, and on either side the step is lined with two levels of text. The left hand upper line reads VITA SINE MORTE IN CAPITE ("Life without death on his head"), that on the right IUVENTUS SINE SENECTUTE IN FRONTE ("Youth without age on his forehead"). These are placed above—on the left and right respectively—the words GAUDIUM SINE MERORE A DEXTRIS ("Joy without sorrow on his right side") and SECURITAS SINE TIMORE A SINISTRIS ("Safety without fear on his left side").


Lectio

Matthew 25: 31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Meditatio

The Context

This text is the conclusion of the teaching of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, this teaching began with the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes[1], and the final judgment is its climax.


As we read through the Gospel of Matthew we discover that, the unexpected content of Sermon of the Mount raised question marks that were later clarified on by the life of Jesus, by his words and deeds. With this final story, Jesus dispels any kind of doubt about the way of life a Christian should lead.


Whoever acts in the way proposed by Jesus puts the Beatitudes into practice. The final judgement tells us clearly what is expected of the “blessed” followers of Jesus (and not only of them, but of all people of good will, as we will see later on).


The reward promised to them has already been announced in the Beatitudes: “taking part in the Kingdom”.


At times this is called a ‘Parable about the End of Time’, but more than a Parable, it is an imaginative description of the Final Judgement.


It is not difficult to understand the meaning of this text; what is difficult, is to put it into practice in every day life.


Elements inherited from the Old Testament Apocalyptic Literature

1. The arrival of the Son of Man, which is already present in the Book of the Prophet Daniel[2], is a theme mentioned several times in the Gospel in the context of the sending out of the Disciples and in the announcement of the Passion of Jesus[3].


2. Matthew, by his allusion to “all the nations” extends the power and influence of the Son of Man to the entire universe.


3. In the Book of Daniel the “One sitting on the Throne” is the “Ancient One”, God. However, in his Gospel, Matthew affirms that the Son of Man takes the place of God, because He is God and He sits on this throne of glory. Jesus Christ makes the Last Judgement.


4. Jesus had promised his disciples that He would share the twelve thrones of the tribes of Israel with them [4]. We do not see this reflected in the last judgment story, but the Book of Revelation will express how this is going to be fulfilled[5]: Christians wage a battle against evil and they will prevail through the power of the Spirit.


5. The sheep and the goats are also mentioned in the Book of Prophet Ezekiel[6]. God will vindicate and take care of the weak (sheep).


6. The mentality of the time considered right-handed individuals to be good while left-handed were suspected of being evil. This explains why the sheep go to the right and the goats to the left.


You did it to me

Jesus said: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”[7]. In the last judgment, his brother, sister and mother are not so much those who do the will of God, but those who suffer for doing God’s will.


Jesus does not engage in useless discussion about the origin or the nature of deprivation, or what causes people to be hungry, naked, sick or in prison. It is truly remarkable to see the practicality of Jesus: “Help the person who is in need! Full stop!

· In our world, where many argue whether refugees have the right to cross over

borders or not, Jesus tells us to welcome them.

· In a world where many discuss whether the poor are poor due to their own fault,

Jesus tells us to help them.

· We should not be surprised that Matthew includes visiting prisoners as one of the

works of mercy, because many Members of his Community were put in jail because

of their faith. And while evidently many prisoners are in jail for their own misdeeds,

others may be imprisoned unjustly. Jesus tells us to visit them, anyway.

· Others may go on to endlessly discuss about all of the above; however, the

followers of Jesus, are not to construct theories or bury their heads in the sand.

Jesus, tells us: “Whatever you did to one of these little ones, you did it to me!”


Is it therefore necessary to do good “in the name of God”?

The plan of salvation is not restricted to the People of Israel.

This is a message which has universal significance. It affects the entire universe not only the Church or Christian believers.


Faithful Christians, Members of other Faiths, agnostics and atheists will face the same judgment.


Everyone will have to give an account of his/her deeds.


The works of mercy are the prerequisite to enter and share in the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no reason to justify neglect of these duties.


Certainly, they are not the exclusive duties of Christians but Christians take them as their rule of life, because they are aware of the absolute relevance they have for one’s life here on earth, and for one’s future with God in heaven.


Oratio


“Prayer is not a means for us to persuade

a reluctant God to do something

which is against his better judgment.

Prayer, rather is coming to God

for the fulfilment of his will,

coming to a God who delights

to answer prayer.”


Psalm 19: 1-4

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.


Contemplatio

Christ’s Kingship is not about the exercise of power or the exercise of dominion and authority … It is about service and self-giving.


Christ’s throne is not a sumptuous chair, but a wooden cross.


The crown on Jesus’ head is not made of pearls, gold or silver, but of thorns.


The power of Jesus is over evil, not over political opponents.


The dominion of Jesus extends beyond this world.


The mandate of Jesus is to spread love.


To come closer to Jesus we do not need to have access to a luxurious palace … He came down from heaven and knocks at our door to meet us wherever we are[8].


Jesus wants to reign over our heart. That is the ‘temple’ fit for Him, his desired dwelling place.


Put in me a new heart, O Lord, a heart to love you, a heart to adore you. Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, to feel with you the suffering of my neighbour.


The universe cannot contain the glory of the Lord. Jesus reigns beyond space and time.


The children of God have inherited the glory of God, not by right, but by grace. Through the grace of God we share in His goodness and holiness.


[1] Matthew 5 [2] Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed”. [3] Matthew 10:23: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Matthew 16:27: “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done”. [4] Matthew 19:28: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” [5] Revelation 3:21: “To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” [6] Ezekiel 34:17: “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats”. [7] Matthew 12:50 [8] Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

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