Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Our Daily Work Matthew 16:24

A painting by the twentieth century artist, Stanley Spencer, conveys the truth that sacrificial loving is our daily work. Spencer lived in the small English village of Cookham and did all of his religious paintings there. Cookham became the location, for instance, of his painting, "Christ Carrying His Cross." The usual shops line the main street -- bakery, butcher, tea room, and others. People are all around, going about their business and there, walking up the street is Jesus, carrying his cross.

The striking thing about the picture, says Daniel Taylor who saw it in a London show of Spencer's paintings, is that no one in the street is looking at him. "All are going about their business, including two workmen following behind Christ carrying ladders that intersect each other in a way that mirrors Christ's cross ... . Spencer depicts Christ as he does -- walking through the streets of an ordinary village with his cross, like the workmen with their ladders -- to show ... that 'sacrificial loving is daily work, and joyful work at that.' Jesus is just doing his job (or the job, as Spencer insists), the thing he came to do ...." (Daniel Taylor. In Search of Sacred Places, 51-52).

Jesus had a job to do. Even as a boy he knew this, for he told his parents when they found him in the temple, "I must be about my Father's business." Later, on three different occasions, he told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and be crucified. Then, in Luke 9:51 we are told that "He set his face (or was determined) to go to Jerusalem" -- and to the cross. Sacrificial loving was his work. He had a job to do.

And so do we. In the painting two workmen follow Jesus carrying ladders that intersect to look like a cross. Its as if they are following his admonition in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

In the painting all of this takes place in the center of human activity -- on main street -- amidst the busyness of ordinary pursuits. This is where living by the cross becomes meaningful, not just in church or in a separated place, but in everyday life. On the job, in the home, on the playground -- sacrificial loving is our daily work.

We are reminded of this each Sunday at the Lord's Table when we take the stuff of everyday life, the fruit of the vine and bread and hear once more his words: "This is my body ... this is my blood ... for you."

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