‘You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet’ Psalm 8:6
Wandering around Tate Britain during a spare hour in London, I paused and then sat to ponder a picture by John Everett Millais entitled Christ in the House of His Parents – The Carpenter’s Workshop’. I’m not usually a huge fan of old religious paintings, as they tend to be idealistic and awash with symbolism that doesn’t do much for me. However, I liked this picture at first sighting, as it seemed to show Jesus and his dad working together at either end of a bench … with not a halo in sight! This was good, as it demonstrated that Jesus was a real man doing real work in a real place. Fully God, fully man. The biblical Jesus. Excellent.
But (don’t you hate that word!), I then looked closer and saw that the woman at the back I had assumed to be Jesus’s mother, was actually far too old. Then the eyes of the lad on the right were fixed on the cherubic boy at the front (usually a sign that this is the focus of the picture); and the hand of Joseph was likewise resting on the shoulder of the cherub … who had a nail hole in his hand, with blood pouring down onto his foot. So this was Jesus and the picture turned out to be awash with random items of symbolism – a dove on the ladder, a herd of sheep looking in … The young man at the other end of the workbench could have been the bloke next door. How disappointing.
Yet it had set me thinking … about Psalm 8, where the Psalmist, David, wonders with some astonishment that Mankind had been placed in charge of the very work of God’s hands – the Heavens, the Earth and everything in it. That God should entrust His Creation to us is extraordinary enough. That He should come down in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to live and work as one of us, so He could understand what it was like to be human was, frankly, beyond belief.
Yet this is the hope of the Gospel – God with us – celebrated through the Christian Year as it progresses from Advent and Christmas to Holy Week, Easter and beyond to Ascension and Pentecost. And this amazing story was all for you and me – that we might be restored, here and now, to right relationship with our Father and the sure hope of eternity with our Saviour Jesus.
So maybe Millais’s picture was not so bad after all – the wood of the cross, the nails that pierced Jesus’s hands, the church that was formed and empowered by the Holy Spirit …
I wonder if those around me as I sat at the Tate had any inkling of what was going through my mind!