How Can This Be?
Caravaggio is one of my favorite artists. I have a book of his complete works and I never tire from looking at them. This painting is called the Deposition (meaning “burial” in this context) and is considered one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces. It was painted around 1435 and currently hangs in the Vatican Museum.
Caravaggio does not portray the burial of Christ as most painters of his day. Usually, Christ is shown being laid in a tomb but here he is laid on the “Anointing Stone,” which is the stone that sealed the tomb. We see Nicodemus at Jesus’ feet and John at Jesus’ head, tenderly lowering the limp body of their Lord. They are surrounded by the holy women: The Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Cleophas, who raises her arms and eyes to heaven in a gesture of dramatic tension, perhaps expressing what they were all thinking: “How can this be?”
We meet Nicodemus in John 3 where we learn he is a leader of the Jews. He has some questions for Jesus: “How are you able to do what you do? How can one be born again? How can this be?” What I admire about Nicodemus is that even though he comes to Jesus in the cloak of night, he still comes. He is not afraid to air his doubts or show his ignorance. He does not go to some book written by some scholar. He does not ask the opinion of his religious friends. He goes to the source himself.
Unfortunately, many people have a lot of preconceived notions about Christ. They let their doubts and questions keep them from coming to Jesus directly. God invites us to go to his word. Go to the source. Put aside assumptions and ask hard questions, like, “How can this be?” Doubt is not opposite of faith but a part of it. We are not asked to blindly believe without questioning. We are invited to consider (“consider the lilies” Jesus says in Matthew 6:28) and to think about the claims and truths of God. Christian writer, Dr. Timothy Keller, says, “Christianity does not set faith against thinking. It sets faith against assuming.”
Featured art: Caravaggio, Deposition (also known as The Entombment of Christ), 1602-1603