Friday, November 22, 2019

A New Piece Unveiled

Copyright © Edward Riojas
 Copyright © Edward Riojas

The figure is centered, but he is not central. He is conspicuous, but he is not preeminent. He is illuminated, but he is not in the light. The composition of my newest piece, “Two Men Went Up To Pray,” belies the focus of the painting, and this was done with great intention.

The Pharisee appeared to be the paragon; the epitome of temple worshiper. When he awoke that morning, a quick gaze at the stripes of his tallit in the predawn light told him it was time for prayers. He put on the visage and garments and trappings of one who dared to enter the Temple courts. His grizzled payots lay next to his carefully-groomed beard. His shel rosh and teffilah, phylacteries bound to forehead and arm, carried bits of the Torah. His tassels were long. He covered his head with the prayer shawl and headed to the Temple. But he forgot something.

The Publican, on the other hand, had little to bring. With so many sins burdening him, pride had been left behind. He stood out among the others on the Temple grounds. Perhaps they saw his Augusticlavia, a piece of clothing Roman Equites wore – the social class to which Publicans belonged. Perhaps he had no tassels or phylacteries at all. Perhaps his prayer shawl was not recognized as Kosher. But he was recognized.

"Two Men Went Up To Pray"
Edward Riojas. 2019. Oil on panel.
(Copyright © Edward Riojas)
Those around him knew who he was, and disliked him for it. They thought he had been too comfortable with the occupying Romans, and he had been far too comfortable with squeezing Hebrew pockets. To Jews, he was an outsider who did not belong at the Temple. At all.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray.”

From childhood, we have been taught the selfishness of the Pharisee’s prayer. Not only was he thankful for, um, himself, but he was also thankful that he was not like others – especially the worst vermin of society; especially that Publican. Some versions say the Pharisee prayed “with himself,” or prayed “to himself.” We can easily surmise that the Pharisee’s prayer was no prayer at all. Still, the Pharisee was obviously comfortable with himself.

From childhood, we have also been taught of the discomfort with which the Publican prayed. He avoided the Temple limelight and stood far off. He could not bear to look heavenward, but beat his chest, and begged, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is the picture of misery. This is a man who dares not come out of the shadows. This is one who might crawl under a rock. For those of us who have felt this and felt it keenly, we know it is not a happy place. But it is a most blessed place, for the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart is what our Lord desires – not the scent of burning cattle from a thousand hills. This contrite heart is what the Pharisee had forgotten.

The point of this piece can be seen in small details of the painting. Hand gestures, in particular, clarify the essence of this passage from Holy Scripture. The Pharisee’s hand sits comfortably on his own chest in admiration of the superior man whom God has made. The Publican’s clenched fist beats his own chest in abomination of the man who has offended God and men.

But there is a hand from a third figure – One who is hidden in plain sight. This person gives consolation, in a simple gesture, to the burdened shoulder of the Publican. That hand is the focus of the painting. The wound on that hand is the epicenter of this passage and, indeed, the whole of Scripture. That wounded hand is evidence of undeserved Grace. This is how the one man went home justified.

Even as we read of the two men who went up to the temple to pray, we are reminded of another Who prayed. In His High Priestly prayer, Christ prayed, “...“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”


Sizes and prices for giclée prints of “Two Men Went Up To Pray:”
20" wide x 40" / $180
18" x 36" / $150
15" x 30" / $120
12" x 24" / $80

NOTE: Listed sizes are for the image itself – there is an extra one or two inches of white space all-around to aid in framing. Prints are signed, but are not matted or framed. Domestic shipping, etc., is included in listed prices. International orders will have additional shipping and duty charges.

THE ORIGINAL PIECE, a 24" x 48" unframed, oil on panel, is also for sale at $5,000. Shipping, handling, and duties are extra.

To order prints, or for more information on either the original or prints, please e-mail the artist at

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