As One with Authority

If you have been reading my devotions, you know I love the Italian artist Caravaggio’s work. This painting wasn’t done by him, but the artist, Orazio Borgianni, used Caravaggio as inspiration. That is why we see dramatic lights and darks employed in this composition. Borgianni was an Italian painter as well but spent much time in Spain. He is said to have had a temper. The story goes that one day he was in Rome riding in a coach and observed some artists, among whom was Caravaggio, supposedly laughing at him. He sprang from the carriage, seized a bottle of varnish from the shop of a druggist, and threw it at the heads of the offenders.

Whether or not this story is true is up in the air, but Borgianni was definitely talented. This painting is inspired by a story in the Bible when Jesus was in Jerusalem and entered the temple courts where he began to teach. His teaching was impressive and the chief priests and elders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

This oil painting shows the chief priests and elders surrounding a young Jesus whose face is fully illuminated. His hands point to his heart and to scripture as opens the meaning of the text to his “pupils” who question his authority and have facial expressions that reflect their skepticism and disbelief. The composition of the painting is like an oasis with Jesus in the middle of the surrounding turmoil. I love how the elder on the left adjusts his glasses. Perhaps he is seeing the text through a new lens.

This painting conveys the gentleness and patience of Jesus’ authority. All throughout scripture, Jesus meets people where they are at and doesn’t wield his power or authority over them in a controlling way. Rather he starts a conversation. A true teacher or leader doesn’t try to control people but strives to engage people. Jesus wants to release the potential he sees inside each person around him. He is not so much interested in converting others as he is in loving others. Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus did not say to make converts to your way of thinking…” but to make disciples by introducing people to the person of Jesus Christ, who is our true teacher.

Being Human connection: May we love instead of convert, engage instead of insist, and see the potential in all people—even those who do not believe as we do. May we see through a new set of lens.

Featured art: Orazio Borgianni, Christ Amongst the Doctors, 1609, © Sotheby’s London, 4 July 2012, lot 30, sold for around $3.5 million