Friday, July 17, 2015

The Kingdom of Heaven

Copyright © Edward Riojas

At first, the painting seemed rather ordinary.

Then I became unsure if the image was heretical, or simply odd. I had a growing suspicion that it wasn’t normal.

It is sort of like the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven must make those outside of it scratch their heads in puzzlement. The Kingdom is an odd picture filled with peculiar folk and reigned by an unlikely King. On the surface there doesn’t seem to be much to it.

So it was with my painting. Perhaps it was my hesitation that caused me to put the little painting away in a closet – out of sight and out of mind. There were other things needing my attention. I was busy. I have a feeling many people would do the same with the Church – just get it out of the way in order to focus on other things.

The closet door closed. Months past. Then a year, and more months.

A young lady asked about the painting gathering dust. This family friend asked an innocent question about a work that, for years, hadn’t seen the light of day.

“Is it done?” “Did you ever do anything with it?”

I had nearly forgotten the painting. Her question caused me to pull it out of the closet. I pondered the image, dusted off the panel, took a photo of its bluish under-painting, and set the thing on my studio easel.  Then I posted the photo and a few descriptive words on Facebook.

That post immediately lit up with action, eventually receiving nearly 10,000 hits and 141 shares. While it was getting hits, the painting was apparently hitting home for many. Since the work’s completion, I have heard a few stories of the pain it softens; of the comfort it brings, so I’ve decided to share it here, along with the original explanation posted when the painting was finished...

"The Parable of the Buried Treasure," by Edward Riojas. 2013. (Collection of the artist) Copyright © Edward Riojas

“The Parable of the Buried Treasure”

Here is a view of the completed painting. This small painting is something I started after pondering the parable of the buried treasure in light of Christ’s love for us.

I couldn’t get around the idea of the field being a cemetery, with its scattered stones, and the man – Christ Jesus – coming to claim his hidden treasure. “For joy, he sold all he had and bought that field.”

Holy Scripture sometimes contains the most understated truths. “All he had” was his very life, given for us, “Not with gold or silver,” as we are told, “but with His holy, precious blood.” So that Man pulls out a treasure with His pierced hands. The wounds are permanent, but His crucifixion and death are not.

The painting points to Holy Scripture with another finger: It illustrates just how much we contribute to Salvation – nothing. We were dead. Not only were we dead, but we were dead in our trespasses. If that were not enough, we were bound in Satan’s chains. We were in a box from which we could not escape.

Yet Christ calls us His treasure. The English language helps us in this scenario – the words “coffin” and “casket” are derived from the same words that are used for containers of wealth. Furthermore, “vaults” are used to inter this wealth.

What points to Christ’s love for us is not only His payment for our sins through His sacrifice, but also the reality of what He considers valuable. He treasures not gold or silver, but the sinful, the lost, the dregs of humanity, the rotting, the forgotten, the discarded for convenience, the destroyed by design, the consumed by disease, the consumed by conflagration, the consumed by woe. This mess of ugliness He treasures. Not only did Christ Jesus give His all for it, but He also enfolds it in His arms and holds it to His breast.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

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