Tuesday, 8 January 2013


When Jesus taught the people, I wonder how he sat?

There’s a famous painting by Rembrandt of King David and the prophet Nathan.  It captures the moment in which the prophet says to the king, “Thou art the man.”

An interesting exercise if you ever have to think up church group work, is to read the story (it’s in 2 Samuel 11 and 12) about this together, and then ask the people in the group how they would direct the interaction between David and Nathan if it were to be portrayed on stage.

“Thou art the man!”

Some would have the prophet entering the throne room, with some trepidation.  Others seem him with pointing finger and arm outstretched, denouncing David in a dramatic gesture.  Almost always people envisage distance between the two figures.  That’s what makes Rembrandt’s painting so extraordinary.  The artist sees them sitting on the same level, close together, as equals and as friends, talking quietly.

How does God come to us?

If I come across a teacher of truth whose work I admire, I like (if I have the opportunity) to watch them, watch how they go about an ordinary day, how they conduct themselves when nothing special is happening; how they behave towards people who are unimportant, who don’t matter.    

One of the things I look for is how the teacher of truth sits in relation to those around him.

If s/he is elevated on a dais, distanced from the people who have come to hear and see, it is a disappointment.  This almost always happens, if only for practical reasons – so that the audience can hear and see.  It is meant for accessibility, but it also smuggles in separation.  The unimportant ones sit close together.  The one who matters sits up there.  When I have been a preacher, it was no different - up high in the pulpit, or standing up in front of the people.  One accepts it, as though it had to be this way.

The snapshots of Jesus in the Bible are about where God sits.

Sleeping in the food trough for oats below the hayrack.

In the dust, resting his back against a well, hoping someone will come along with a cup so he can beg a drink.

Tired – exhausted – crashed out in the stern of a boat, asleep on a cushion.

On the grass.

On the lake shore.

On the hillside.

In the living room of a friend.

We do see him elevated, once, with a special placard saying “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”.

It's what “Emmanuel” means.  No separation.  One of us.  Unassuming.  Humble.  Beside us.

We are all in this together.


Anonymous said...

One of the things I have learned through my walk in this life, is to view people in their ordinary hours. The person is at their most natural, and you are able to fully appreciate the whole person.

Our Lord is like that. He is unassuming on purpose. He appeared the same during his ordinary hours, because this way, He will be more approachable.

Excellent post Pen. Filling my friend... thank you. mb

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hiya - waving! x

Unknown said...

Yes. Now I am preaching again I have abandoned the pulpit exactly because it separates me from everyone else ~ & I don't believe that is how it was meant to be. It is scarier for all of us but so much more authentic & inclusive.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - I have begun to believe in a different way of preparation: instead of preparing *the sermon* (full text, needing a lectern for the notes and preaching from those), I incline now towards preparing *the self*: so immersing oneself in the subject matter under consideration that it is possible to sit down with people and talk with them, answer questions, bring it to life for them. I developed a pattern, on teaching retreats, of producing a handout that contained all the main points I wanted to communicate - along with plenty of pictures because some people think visually not verbally - so that no-one needed to take notes and I didn't need to refer to notes; we all had the same reference paper to hand.

Pen Wilcock said...

And at those retreats we would sit in a circle in a normal room, not in rows facing the front; and I would take the lowest seat - either sit on the floor or on a little bench thingy that acted as a kind of fender in front of the fireplace.

Rebecca said...

I think that what you write & observe here is "most certainly true" and instructive. I'll take the smaller, more intimate settings ANYday. Crowded concerts and humongous auditoriums hold little appeal to me anymore.

Buzzfloyd said...

In the children's Bibles and similar books I had growing up, there were plenty of pictures of Jesus on the mountainside, with people arrayed below him, listening. But I remember once seeing a picture where the artist had the people sitting up the side of the mountain as though it were part of an ampitheatre, with Jesus below them, looking up. I thought that was interesting.

In the Gospels, Jesus' lowliness that you discuss also often seems to mean being somewhere unsafe, in the sense of not being closed in and guarded. He sleeps in a boat where the waves could wash over him. He sits in a place at the table where some woman can walk in and start washing his feet. He walks through a crowd where a woman can reach out and grab the edge of his cloak. And so on. He is both in the lowly place and unguarded.

Pen Wilcock said...

Rebecca - yes, I prefer to learn in the smaller, more immediate environment too. And in a home, not an institution.

Buzz - yes - good point. We are all better here now, by the way; so maybe see you sometime over the weekend? Sunday I expect x

Deb D. said...

Penelope: lovely, calming, quieting, touching, filling, satisfying. Thank you for sharing your insights and observations. Lovely.

Deb in Fort Wayne.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Thank you! x