Friday, April 15, 2016

Personal Space

Copyright © Edward Riojas

We all have our comfort zones – especially that little area around our bodies we call our “personal space.” If you’ve ever had that invisible barrier breached, chances are you remember it. It can be a little on the creepy side and, unless you’re in another country where social customs are different, it is unavoidable and disconcerting.

A gentleman with hearing problems once wanted to chat with me. As he leaned in and crossed my personal barrier, I instinctively leaned backwards with alarms going off in my head. As humans, we have definite lines where another’s presence is off-limits.

Enter Jesus Christ.

It was a while since Jesus had risen from the dead, and stories were spreading like wildfire – wonderful stories; amazing stories; unbelievable stories. Thomas not only disbelieved, but also demanded physical proof to change his mind. We, knowing the full story, think of him as a nincompoop; a pea-wit with the faith of an ashtray. But we may want to hold that thought for a just a bit, as we dislodge the log from our own eye – you know: the one with 20/20 hindsight.
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas”
Michael Angelo Merigi da Caravaggio.
1601-02. (Sanssouci, Potsdam, Germany)

I’ve always looked at Caravaggio’s work with an approving eye. The artist did things differently. He spurned the long-used convention of idealizing figures in a sometimes-unreal vision of Holy Scripture, and instead employed real people – warts and all – as models for Biblical folks. Using people off the street as stand-ins for saints didn’t sit well with some in the Roman Catholic church, but it smacked viewers in the face and forced them to take a closer look at the sinners in Scripture's epic narrative.

Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of St. Thomas” is one of his best pieces. We look at the deeply-furrowed brow of Thomas, and quietly murmur, “Noob.” But it’s his finger that upstages nearly everything else in the masterpiece. Some serious personal space is invaded. Like no other painting on the subject, the finger does not stop at the skin of the Savior. It goes into the wound. It is unnerving, and we wonder if a liver is touched. Or a gall bladder. Or a heart.

The artist at once painted something so disconcerting and so beautifully intimate, and it is cause to ponder the unthinkable: That Almighty God, who once caused the wandering Israelites to plug their ears for fear of death; who once utterly destroyed a few who mistakenly touched the Ark of the Covenant, now invites a touch that one – and all – might believe. What a gracious, Living God we have!

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