Painting with the Heart

27 December 2006. Feast of St. John the Evangelist
John 20, 2-8: Painting from the Heart

It was customary in Palestine that family and friends visit the tomb of their loved ones for three days after they had buried the body. They believed that the spirit of the dead hovered around the tomb for three days because they still could recognize their bodies --- until the fourth day when decay began. The spirit departed thereafter. In the Gospel, those who loved Jesus came to the tomb the first thing after the Sabbath (which is Saturday to us). They could not visit it after they buried the body on a Friday: or else, they break the Sabbath law. So, very early (prōi – technical word of the last four watches which the night was divided) on Sunday morning, Mary came to the tomb. When she arrived and discovered that the stone that barred the tomb was removed, she returned to the city to seek out Peter and John. And we knew that both ran towards the tomb, but it was John who made it first.

Today is the feast of St. John, the evangelist. And thus we will focus on John. John must have been younger than Peter, he came to the tomb first, but Peter, as impulsive as he was, went in and found the clothes they wrapped Jesus on. The grave clothes were not in disarray or disarranged. It was still in their folds --- in Greek words says that the grave clothes did not appear to have been folded or taken or removed: it was there as if the body of Jesus just evaporated. The sight convinced John and he believed: he believed that Jesus had risen.

There is a wonderful thing here. You see, those who came to the tomb are those who loved Jesus very much. Mary, Peter and John, all have the same and intense love for him. Mary who loved Jesus so much, was the first in the tomb. John, who loved Jesus, and whom Jesus also loved, was the first to believe. In another instance after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore instructing Peter and the disciples to fish. It was John who first recognized Jesus, and said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

You see, when we love someone, we are able to read his mind and his heart. When our hearts are totally one with our beloved, we are able to interpret events according to them. When the mother of one of my students passed away, I happen to join the family for dinner. The brother of my student did not finish his food, and my student remarked, “If mom were here, she would have scolded you.” St. Ignatius writes in the Constitution of the Jesuits how to think with the Church, and how to be one heart and one mind as Jesuits: you can only do this when you genuinely love the Church and the Society of Jesus.

Second, we are able to recognize the person we love even if the person is at a distance: by their walk or how they stand. Love can interpret events and recognize persons which another who doesn’t care cannot. A fine arts student once told me how she chose her boyfriend. She had two suitors --- both from the Fine Arts Department; both painters; both, interesting to her. She made them paint her. When they presented their paintings to her, she noticed one remarkable thing: one of her suitors was able to paint her face with its minute details: the fold of her cheeks when she blushes. She said, “I chose him because he clearly loved and understood me.”

As we celebrate Christmas and the feast of St. John who loved Jesus, let us reflect on the way we understand and love Jesus. If Jesus asked you to paint Him --- without borrowing or copying from all the paintings of Him in the world --- how are you going to paint Jesus?

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