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Lent: Time of Prayer, Penance and Forgiveness

First Sunday of Lent, a journey of faith and endurance

On this First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel passage proclaimed is about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Satan is the accuser, the betrayer; Jesus, on the other hand, does not betray the Father, he justifies and wins in Truth.

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It is the Holy Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness, but this is not an isolated incident, for the Holy Spirit has always guided Christ’s life according to God’s will. Matthew’s Gospel (4:1-11) tells us about the place (the desert), the animals, the fasting, the Angels and the demon. The illustration of this passage executed in 1860 by Felix Joseph Barrias, a French painter (1822/1907), shows us the very moment when Christ after forty days and forty nights of fasting and prayer in the desert, was hungry, and it is at this point that Satan tempts Jesus. In this work we almost seem to hear Satan’s words: if you are the Son of God…. The two characters who grandstand over the essential setting, just described, have a strongly expressive attitude and gestures. The authority with which Jesus responds to the three temptations is evidenced by his physiognomy, the contrasting color scheme, and the imposing statuesqueness of his figure. The colors are contrasting but the shadows soften the vividness and fully render the force of the event.

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It reminds us of the desert of Jesus’ temptation, the painting by Andrea Mantegna, Renaissance painter, (1430/1506) kept in the National Gallery in London from about 1455:” Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden.” Jesus is praying in a rocky, barren setting, almost devoid of vegetation except for a skeletal shrub of an almost dry olive tree on which a vulture rests to observe.

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Above the small rocky elevation carved like a large plinth, Jesus prays on his knees, and while in Satan’s Temptations the angels prepare to serve him, here they show him the instruments of passion. Behind him a long procession of soldiers descends from a winding road that leads them away from the city, led by Judas. Here again is the accuser, the traitor with his hatred who wants Christ dead. Also in the prayer among the olive trees Jesus is alone praying because the apostles called to give him help in prayer are asleep. Here again there are animals playing symbolic roles, but the chromaticism is more ringing and the blue-gray sky, full of dense clouds, generates an unreal light that highlights every detail. During the prayer in the garden, the helpless Jesus sweats blood, while in the fight with Satan he reacts vigorously by responding with the word of Truth. Every element treated in the two paintings express man’s anguish on the one hand and God’s strength on the other. Perhaps these two works in comparison can also help us in meditating on Jesus’ passion.

Paola Salamino


  • Paola Salamino


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