Abstract Image No. 6 (c. 1960-1961)
Ad Reinhardt

Christmas 2, Luke 2:40-52

Historical Description:

Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) was an Abstract painter from America. In his painting career he seemed to always avoid representation, but eventually moved completely away from external objects and painted primarily geometric shapes.

This painting and others in the series Abstract Images first appears to be nothing but a black canvas. But upon further inspection this painting is not black, but shows multiple shades of color and nine different squares. In painting it Reinhardt wanted to remove every hint of the artist, even every brushstroke is layered in so that no one stroke is identifiable. Through the painting and the shades of black Reinhardt questions if there is such a thing as an absolute.

Devotional Reflection:

If you were to walk through an art museum and see this painting or even see it up in someone’s house you might have a strong initial reaction, “That isn’t art!” You glance at this painting and all you see is a canvas painted black. Frustrated, you squint and try to take another look at it and then you start to see that it isn’t all the same black, but there are different shades of black that form squares. And still, after discovering the shades of black and the squares that the shades form, you are left wondering, “Is this really art? Because I could have painted that.”

Our text for today gives us a glimpse of Jesus doing what almost every kid does, asking questions. Jesus and the family go on their trip to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast. When the feast is over the whole extended family packs up the caravan and heads home. I imagine that scene in Home Alone where the whole family loads up the white cargo vans and heads to the airport. It isn’t until the whole family is out of Jerusalem that someone finally does a headcount and realizes that they are one small lad short.

Meanwhile, Jesus is just hanging out in Jerusalem… For three days! And while he is there he isn’t busy looking for candy stores or playing games with the other kids. No, Jesus is sitting in the temple hanging out with the teachers and asking them questions. And the teachers are amazed. Here is this kid who is certainly not old enough to have any schooling and who hasn’t studied under any Rabbis and he is asking some astonishing questions, he seems to be more than just an inquisitive child. Where does this simple kid get this stuff? And when his parents finally find him after searching for days, this kid simply said, “Why were you looking for me? Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And, even though they saw the angels and had multiple messages from God, they didn’t see it.

The family lived with Jesus and, though they had eyes to look on him, they never saw him. The teachers in the temple watched this little boy question, but were shocked at what they saw. Indeed, throughout Jesus’ life people will look at him and have a strong reaction, “That isn’t God!” How can a kid that gets left behind by his own family be that important?  Even today, people have questions when they see Jesus.

It is easy to take a quick look at a painting and write it off as simple and inartistic. It is also easy to look at Jesus and write him off as nothing but human. But he is more than human; he is God. Our text celebrates the fact that, even in the mundane and simple, Jesus is the Son of God.

What happens when you, who believe that Jesus is not simply human but God, keep looking at him? Keep looking at him and . . . more and more of his life will show through. The longer you look and study, the more you learn and love. If you stare at Abstract Painting No. 5 long enough you begin to see not only shades of black and squares, but also a cross that is formed in the center of the painting, a faint cross but a cross nonetheless. And if you look at young Jesus, you begin to see a faint cross. Because you know that for Jesus to show his full divinity he would have to live a beautiful life, die on a cross, and through blackness defeat death by rising again.

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