Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Crucifixion

Title: Crucifixion
Artist: Jörg Breu the Elder
Medium: Oil on wood
Size: 87 x 63 cm
Date: 1524
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.

Luke 23:32-43 - Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke’s gospel describes how Jesus and two criminals head to their fate. The Greek term describing the other offenders, kakourgos, is a generic one for "lawbreaker" (Prov 21:15). Mark 15:27 and Matthew 27:38 describe the men with the term lestes, which can mean "bandit" or "revolutionary." This is the word Jesus used to question his arrest in Luke 22:52. The other Synoptics mention these thieves, but they only note that they reviled Jesus. Apparently one of them has a change of heart, however, as he hears Jesus intercede for others and watches him tolerate the taunts. This criminal anticipates the restoration and resurrection, and asks to be included. His depth of perception stands in contrast to the blindness of those who taunt. This thief, despite a life full of sin, comes to Jesus and seeks forgiveness in his last mortal moments. He confesses his guilt and casts himself on Jesus' mercy and saving power. Luke could not have painted a clearer portrait of God's grace.

Jörg Breu the Elder was a German painter and designer of woodcuts whose subjects included portraits, altarpieces and battle scenes. He was one of the leading painters of his time in Augsburg, and was patronized by both the emperor Maximilian and by Duke William IV of Bavaria. His style was complex and detailed, sharing something of Altdorfer's passion and love of landscape, and showing strong influence from Dürer and a journey he made to Italy in about 1514.

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