Sunday, March 9, 2014

The First Sunday of Lent

This small but dazzling panel painting by the Italian master Duccio tells the story of today's Gospel. In a barren, craggy landscape we see Satan sooty black and hairy, an ugly beast with bat wings, long fingernails and spiked hair. He is frightening but ultimately ineffectual. He is trying to distract Jesus, who is depicted as strong and noble, serene, upright and majestic, undaunted by Satan's overtures. And all the candy-colored kingdoms Satan offers appear small and toy-like. Jesus dismisses him with a simple, direct gesture, "Get away!" And angels sneak in to offer heavenly comfort.

Jesus is dressed in a crimson red robe- red the color of clay, of earth, of ruddy flesh, the color of blood and fiery passion. And he wears a great cloak of brilliant celestial blue, the color of the heavens, of the ether, the color of divinity, even of pure water- the baptismal water from which he has very recently emerged. Indeed, Jesus' clothing says it all; for he is earth and heaven wed together once and forever.

This unity, this Incarnation, is God's power and majesty at once divinely brilliant and veiled in our flesh. Tempted like us in all ways, God in Christ knows us from the inside out and has come to shield and defend us with his very Self.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled),
17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York