When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the Governor.
Now Jesus stood before the Governor; and the Governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so”. But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?”
But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the Governor was greatly amazed.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Until I saw the full scale of the work of Hieronymous Bosch I had thought of him as a painter of fantastic nightmares, mediaeval cruelty and quite a few naughty bits. Seeing his major paintings brought together I realised that this was a painter of morals and deep Christian spirituality with a keen, unforgiving, eye. He depicted all the invisible “principalities and powers” (Col 2.15) which haunt our darker dreams, as well as the “devices and desires” (Book of Common Prayer) of our everyday lives. He knew what we fear most, as well as what we desire most deeply, and asks us to compare this with the reflection of Christ. You see the contrast in this painting; but it is not by Bosch but is the work of his pupils. The faces are typical Bosch – greedy, cruel, hard-headed businessmen and politicians; their souls’ ugliness has fashioned their faces. In contrast is the almost ethereal Christ – pale, thin and vulnerable, facing his accusers and a Governor who wants to wash his hands of the whole affair. It is in close-up and that was not really Bosch’s style. He liked to open his pictures out, so you could see the house, the street, the marketplace, the whole town and know that it was not just a few cruel men making this judgement, but all of us. If you want to see the real Bosch, go to Frankfurt and see his painting Ecce Homo in which a battered and bleeding Christ stands outside the Governor’s Palace, his accusers gathered around him, the crowd calling for his crucifixion.
He is not ethereal. The reality is painful, physical. He is naked, hungry, thirsty, sick and imprisoned. We have to read Matthew 25 to make sense of Matthew 27: “Lord when was it we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?”
Pilate had the answer: “Behold the man”.
Thanks be to you,
O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given us,
For all the pains and insults
which you have borne for us.
O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend and Brother,
May we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
Now and for evermore.
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister in the Northern Synod and a member of St Andrew’s URC, Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne.