Christ is sitting on dreadfully stoney ground, in the middle of a bleak, dead looking landscape, under a darkly threatening sky. Yet again we see his huge hands, on which is standing a tiny scorpion. Another scuttles close to Christ’s bare toes. The composition of the painting puts the scorpion right in the centre, as our initial focus. Christ is hunched over it, contemplating it, looking lost in sad thoughts.
This is a scratchy , spiky, razor sharp kind of picture. If I walked barefoot on that ground, my feet would be cut. If the scorpion stings, Christ is pierced as well as being poisoned. This painting seems to me to be about Christ’s wounds, about His suffering throughout Good Friday. As I look more deeply, there is something more than pain in Christ’s expression. There is a calm stoical acceptance – the quality of his cheeks is like highly polished brown marble. Here is the Christ “eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds”. This image of Christ is quite close to my own image of God the Father. If Jesus went into the wilderness to be close to His Father, here is an image in which for me those two Trinitarian expressions of God become blurred. If we draw close, we begin to resemble that to which we are drawn – just as lovers sometimes do as they age, sharing perhaps similar expressions and body language.
So what of the scorpion? Christ cradles and contemplates death in his hands – and less obviously, is threatened by death near his foot too. Betrayal by a friend isn’t what we expect, and in this picture, the threat may not be from the obvious place.
When I first looked at this picture, I thought there wasn’t much to it, and I didn’t like it at all. Now I am finding it hard to turn away.