Cottrell points out that this picture is about home – or rather, lack of home. He suggests that following Jesus is to be homeless – until our death and final going home to God. He speaks of Jesus in this picture as being “perfectly assimilated to the earth”, to show God’s love for creation.
I’m not buying. This painting, as far as I can see, is the one where there is no hope. If Jesus is perfectly assimilated in this landscape, he too is barren and lifeless. This, for me, is the moment when Satan saw his chance. This is the point at which temptation struck.
When we are fed and watered, when things are going our way, evil is easy to resist. It’s when we are down and out, when we have no hope, that we disregard the instructions to love our neighbours, that’s when we become inward looking and self serving. That’s when MY needs and MY wants become so much more important than yours. That’s when I am vulnerable, not to love, but to believing I am so much more important than anyone else.
A baby has no sense of other, just of itself and its own needs. When we become vulnerable, that is the state to which we revert. Vulnerability is something which the church tends to encourage – but then it tends to mean becoming more honest with ourselves and others, more open to God, more likely to step out of our comfort zones and take risks. That kind of vulnerability assumes we have a secure comfort zone from which to step out. The vulnerability Spencer portrays is different – this Christ is used up, spent, perhaps past caring. This Christ has no comfort zone. And perhaps that is where our hope lies. Our fully human fully divine God knows what it is to be worn out and washed up. Even when we are too exhausted, too ashamed, too weak to turn to God, God is there before us.