Masaccio: The Trinity with Mary and John
Santa Maria Novella, Florence, 1425-28
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Reading I: Jer 17:5-10
Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals. . . Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord (NRSV, 17:5a,7).
Let us pray.
Father, your prophet Jeremiah, long before Jesus, had warned us never to put our trust in one another but only in you. Jesus repeated this warning. Only you, Father, and your coming kingdom, are what finally matter in all of human existence. Everything else, chosen apart from you and your kingdom, is distraction and can only bring confusion and destruction into our lives. Jesus warned the rich young man, who was committed to following the Law, that, because of the rule of his riches over his life, it would be better for him if he were to sell all that he had and give everything to the poor. And, Jesus warned that it is not just material things but even loved ones who reap disorder for us. The would-be disciple only wanted first to bury his father before following Jesus. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus retorted.
Over the years, Father, I have been very puzzled by this aspect of Jesus’ preaching. Does it mean that nothing here in this world, not love of spouse, or offspring, or parents or friends, is of any worth? I found the answer, Lord, strangely enough, not in the writings of a theologian or a mystic, but in a fresco on the wall of a church in Florence, a fresco depicting you, Father, your crucified Son and the Holy Spirit, painted by Tommaso di Ser Giovanni, whom we know by his nickname, Masaccio. For the first time in the history of art, Masaccio organized all of the lines of a painting so that they converged on one point. One can find this focal point on the surface of the painting but to the eye it is behind the painting and all lines finally meet visually beyond the painting in the distance. Up until Masaccio, persons and objects in pictures tended to float free of one another without orderly relationship. In Masaccio’s painting all is ordered and in proper rapport because of its dependence on the focal point. It is the focal point that gives meaning to everything within the painting.
And so I realized it is with the kingdom of God. It is in choosing you, Father, and your kingdom above all else, by placing our final trust only in you, that everyone and everything within the world finally takes on its true value. Once all is related to you, Father, beyond this world, all is related to everyone and everything else within the world as well. If the rich young man had ordered everything in his life towards you, Father, he could have used his riches effectively. Having once made your kingdom, Lord, the sole focus of his life, the would-be disciple would have had no choice but to bury his deceased father.
Father, may we always follow the urging of your prophet Jeremiah and of Jesus, the Word made flesh, that you may be the center and focus of everything we are and everything that do, the object of all our trust.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.