Speaking of Life 2037 | Rembrandt’s Question
The Bible shares a few stories of Jesus and water, which may seem even pedestrian to us. Those of us who grew up watching cruise ships and massive cargo ships on the ocean don’t know what it was like to have a storm come up when you are in a vessel smaller than a Volkswagen van!
More than once, we have stories of Jesus calming the storm, such as Matthew 14 in which, returning with Peter from walking on water, the text reads:
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-23 (NRSV)
In the ancient understanding, the sea represented chaos, death, and danger. Only God could control the sea.
When he was 29 years old, Rembrandt painted the famous Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee based on the similar episode in Mark. The original painting is large, four feet across by five feet high, using Rembrandt’s signature mastery of light and dark to make an emotional impact, every face on the boat bears its own expression and tells its own story, from those trying futilely to hold the boat together to those who are resigned to their fate.
Jesus wakes up from sleeping in the back of the boat and has a look of total peace and trust that God is in charge. Close at hand there is another figure, almost out of place and wearing clothes that seem out of the color scheme slightly. He stares straight at the viewer.
A close count will show, as you might guess, 12 disciples and one Lord, making for 13 figures in the painting. Look again and you will see 14. The figure in the foreground, staring compellingly at you as you gaze at the painting is none other than Rembrandt himself.
Scholars speculate Rembrandt may have been doing the lectio divina exercise of seeing himself within the story of Christ. He was so passionately invested in this story that he pictured himself within it. It poses the question:
Where are we on the boat? Where are we on the night that Jesus walked out to the disciples on the water or when a storm came out of nowhere and tossed the boat violently? It’s a question worth asking at any point in our lives, and in any of the stormy seas we may face. Are we turning outward to stare at the sea or turning back to the Lord himself?
The really good news is that no matter how violent the seas, nor how distressed you and I become, the Lord is with us. The calm, sure, saving Jesus is ever-present in this boat we call life. We actively participate by looking to him in calm and stormy seas.
I’m Greg Williams, speaking of life.