When I was eight, we moved into a new home that my parents designed. I remember “helping” sponge paint some walls, pick fun decor for my sunflower themed room, and going to the site daily to check on the progress of the build. One of the things I miss the most from that house was our porcelain red sink. I remember my mom getting a steal of deal and being so excited for it. Friends would come over and say, “WOW, your sink is RED.” It was always a conversation piece and was just so fun.
Now I know most will give me a side eye when I say this, but I’ve never truly loved all things red. It’s actually the one color I have the least amount in my closet. On the color wheel, red is a mixture of magenta and yellow. In painting class in college, reds were hard to match, they were hard to imitate, and even harder to ignore once stained on your clothing. It’s bold and it’s vivid and always makes a statement. So when artists use red there is usually symbolism, a statement (usually political —AKA, starving artists), or there was intention to direct your eye to that portion of the painting.
In the painting, “St. Jerome’s Writing,” by Italian artist, Caravagio, the folds of the red cloak cannot be ignored. Caravagio painted a series of St. Jerome in the early 1600’s. St. Jerome was one of the four Latin church Fathers. He was given the daunting task to translate the Scriptures from Hebrew to Latin, and Caravaggio captures that in this painting. The red cloak draws your attention to St. Jerome and diminishing the overshadowing the ominous skull nearby. The light bounces off his head highlighting where his gaze is, deeply fixated on the margin. St. Jerome’s gaze is so deep in concentration that his eyes do break contact with the margin to write because “the intensity of St. Jerome’s intellectual concentration is contrasted with (and supported) by his not less intense bodylines. Caravaggio, as if, suggests here that there is no contradiction between spirituality and body if a person is dedicated to spiritual life.” A print of this sits in my office because the significance of the intention is a constant reminder to me in ministry.
St. Jerome’s arm is stretched across the books next to the skull. Light shines on the skull and Caravaggio strategically paints the skull horizontally facing St. Jerome. Here, Caravaggio is sending a message that death is eminent and St. Jerome is working feverishly to transcribe so that others can receive eternal life through these words. St. Jerome’s focus shows the studious intention of translating these words well and you can see that his posture is bent displaying the humility of the task assigned to him. He shows humility in the receiving of the words and of the assignment. That he is not above these words but rather leaning on them and into them as they are support and life. You can see that this is of great importance to him as nothing is distracting him- not fears, not age, nothing. His focus was intentional and his position was humility.
St. Jerome was educated, he had position (obviously), but I keep this framed print as a reminder on my shelves that the word of God is living, even when we aren’t anymore.This is truly what grabbed me when I stood before it in Rome. In real life, this painting is BREATHTAKING. You can’t take photos of it because it will mess with the piece. The red is nothing I could of ever duplicated, sorry Professor Baldwin. But no matter what age, death is staring us in the face. One day, our earthly bodies will perish. No matter what we acquire in security, in possession, in position– none of it truly matters, it’s not eternal. St. Jerome here is focused and fixated on his task. He is humbled and grateful in his calling and knows there is nothing greater than the power of God’s word and the covering of Jesus (see red cloak).
So this month I want to challenge you to not lose focus on your calling. Don’t be distracted by the things that aren’t everlasting. Instead, I want to challenge you to remember the words of Paul (teaching about Jesus) and the posture that St. Jerome embodies in this painting:
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).”
Stay focused. Stay humble.