An Art Lesson

October 23, 2014
by John Stuart

Matthew 14:11 – His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. (NIV)

When I was growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, my dad frequently used to take me and my siblings to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in the heart of the city. It was always a fascinating place to visit, and because my dad was a great city historian, he used to tell us stories about the museum, as well as some interesting facts about that part of Glasgow.

The museum is one of the most important art galleries in the world because it contains paintings by Rembrandt, Renoir, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, and Monet, as well as many other famous artists. When we visited the museum, it took a whole day to walk the hallways and corridors, sections and levels. If ever I get back to Scotland, it will be one of the first and foremost places that I'll visit.

One of the museum's sections contained art by Italian painters from before, during, and after the Renaissance. One of paintings both startled and shocked me when I saw it for the first time. It was Dolci's rendition of Salome carrying the bloodied head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. The woman in the painting is beautiful, but the macabre sight of John's the Baptist's decapitated head is horrendous. When I first saw it, I found myself both appalled and attracted to the painting at the same time. It was entirely a weird experience for such a young schoolboy.

The Biblical account of this event in Matthew 14:1-12 reminds us of the evil that is in the world, which innocent people face in every generation. We have only to glance at the current news headlines to see this type of wicked inhumanity occurring in the Middle East and, unfortunately, across the globe. As Christians, we are meant to confront evil with God's love, which is never easy to do, especially when people of our own faith are victims of oppression and persecution.

So today's message deals with the reality of evil on our planet, but also challenges us to use the divine vehicles of hope, faith, and love to change the world. It may not be easy, but it is Christ's way.

Questions for personal reflection:

How do I initially respond to reports of wickedness across the world? What am I doing with my faith to make my community a better place?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, following Your ways is often difficult, especially in the face of wickedness and violence, conflict and evil. Help us to rely upon You to fortify our spirits, so that we may become channels of Your mercy and instruments of Your peace. In Your holy name, we pray. Amen.

About the author:

John Stuart <traqair@aol.com>
Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Another good word John.


    God’s timing of this devotional is spot on with recent events in Ottawa.


    What a good choice of devotional for today, the day after the terrible event on Canada’s Parliament Hill.


    Hi John,
    For those of us in Canada your message truly resonates today, showing we must overcome fear and anger. Thank you.
    (Ontario)


    Thank you for those encouraging words and the reminder for each and everyone of us as we attempt to deal with the aftermath of the horrendous events on Parliament Hill yesterday. Your words are always thought provoking and timely!


    Thank you John. How timely this is for those of us in Canada today as our false sense of security has been exposed and shaken us to the core in the killings of two peace keeping soldiers in two separate cities right here in Canada. Perhaps hardest to accept is that the killers were young, radicalized Canadians. There is evil in this world to be sure. God Bless and be with the families and friends of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.


    Good-morning John:
    If ever there was a timely message, this morning’s is it, especially after the shooting of the young soldier at our parliament buildings in Canada yesterday.
    While I’m appalled and horrified, I’m not surprised as the evil is ever festering. I heard very many of my fellows saying how they are surprised that it happened in our peaceful country and that it shouldn’t happen here. Obviously, I don’t have the answers but your message is a reminder of the tools I can use to do my part.
    Also, in Toronto we are blessed to have a beautiful art gallery. Though I am blind and can’t see the beauty in the paintings, I always took my children to see them when I could. Because this is something our family did when my daughter was little, she also takes my grandsons. We happened one day upon the painting of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Before my daughter could protect my grandsons from looking at it, we found ourselves with a pair of young boys mesmerized by this painting, much like I suspect you were when you described the painting you saw as a child. The beautiful thing for me was that we could have an on-the-spot Bible lesson. People were amused and horrified when they saw what I was doing, but, you know, the boys understand what happened. They know that terrible things can happen. They also know that their parents, like Mary and Joseph will do their best to protect them even though it may mean leaving the country. Not surprisingly, the slaughter of the innocents is one of their favourite stories more than two years later – which is a very long time in an active little boy’s life.
    Thank you for your message. It is most humbly appreciated.
    God bless you and keep you and yours safe.


    Dear John,
    You are an inspiration to me.
    In the wake of the brutal murder of an innocent soldier at the War Memorial in Ottawa a mosque was vandalized in Cold Lake Alberta (a military base). The words “Go back home” were spray painted on the door. The next day someone had written “You ARE home”. I had the feeling a Christian rather than a muslim did this. In any case it is a Christ-like act.
    (BC)
    In the newspaper today there was a picture of a 16 year old Army Cadet standing a lone vigil at the cenotaph. His remark when approached by a news photographer was poignantly simple, “I wanted to do something”.


    Thank you for your devotional “The Art Lesson”. I have been thinking the same way, that the only way to defeat evil is by doing good; and your word came as a great inspiration to me. Please keep up the good work.

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