CHRIST PREACHING

We read in the evangelists' record of the life of Jesus that he went about the country preaching the gospel (or the good news) of the kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes he preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath day; but more often he talked to the people in the open air, sometimes on the mountain-side, sometimes on the shore of the lake Gennesaret, or again in the streets of their towns.

The scribes and Pharisees were jealous of his popularity, and angry because he exposed their hypocrisy. The proud and rich found many of his sayings too hard to accept. So it was the poor and unhappy who were most eager to hear him, and they often formed a large part of his audience. Jesus himself rejoiced in this class of followers, and when John the Baptist's messengers came to him to inquire into his mission, he sent back the message, "The poor have the gospel preached to them."

In this picture of Christ Preaching, we see that his hearers are of just the kind that the preacher's message is intended for,—the weary and heavy-laden whom he called to himself. There are a few dignitaries in the gathering, it is true, standing pompously by in the hope of finding something to criticise. But Jesus pays no attention to them as he looks down into the faces of the listeners who most need his words. His pulpit is a square coping-stone in a courtyard, and the people gather about him in a circle in the positions most convenient to them.

CHRIST PREACHING Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
CHRIST PREACHING
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

There is no formality here, no ceremony; each one may come and go as he pleases. Here is a mother sitting on the ground directly in front of the speaker, holding a babe in her arms, while a little fellow sprawls out on the ground beside her, drawing on the sand with his finger. Though we cannot see her face, we know that she is an absorbed listener, and Jesus seems to speak directly to her.

A pathetic-looking man beyond her is trying to take in the message in a wondering way, and a long-bearded man behind him is so aroused that he leans eagerly forward to catch every word. There are others, as is always the case, who listen very stolidly as if quite indifferent.

Again there are two who ponder the subject thoughtfully. One of these is in the rear,—a young man, perhaps one of Jesus' disciples; the other sits in front, crossing his legs, and supporting his chin with his hand. In the group at the right of Jesus we can easily pick out the scoffers and critics, listening intently, some of them more interested, perhaps, than they had expected to be.

As we look at Jesus himself, so gentle and tender, raising both hands as if to bless the company, we feel sure that he is speaking some message of comfort. One day when he was reading the Scriptures in the synagogue at Capernaum, he selected a passage which described his own work, and which perfectly applies to this picture. We can imagine that he is saying: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

It is a noticeable fact that the figures in this picture of Christ preaching are Dutch types. If you think that this is a strange way to illustrate scenes which took place in Palestine many centuries ago, you must remember that the picture was drawn by a Dutchman who knew nothing of Palestine, and indeed little of any country outside his own Holland. He wished to make the life of Christ seem real and vivid to his own countrymen; and the only way he could do this was to represent the scenes in the surroundings most familiar to himself and to them. The artist was simply trying to imagine what Jesus would do if he had come to Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, instead of to Jerusalem in the first century; somewhat as certain modern writers have tried to think what would take place "If Jesus came to Chicago," or "If Jesus came to Boston," in the nineteenth century. The sweet gentleness in the face of Christ and the eager attention of the people show how well Rembrandt understood the real meaning of the New Testament.

This picture is worthy of very special study because it is reckoned by critics one of the best of Rembrandt's etchings. One enthusiastic writer[8] says that "the full maturity of his genius is expressed in every feature." One must know a great deal about the technical processes of etching to appreciate fully all these excellencies; but even an inexperienced eye can see how few and simple are the lines which produce such striking effects of light and shadow: a scratch or two here, a few parallel lines drawn diagonally there; some coarse cross-hatching in one place, closer hatching in another; now and then a spot of the black ink itself,—and the whole scene is made alive, with Jesus standing in the midst, the light gleaming full upon his figure.

[8] Michel.