This painting is a gloss, of sorts, on Stanley Spencer’s Jesus in the Wilderness series, which I’ll be preaching on this Sunday. Spencer was a very complicated person, deeply spiritual, sometimes morally cruel, willfully innocent in ways and deeply foolish in others. Not that different from most of us, in other words. But his understanding of Jesus’s sojourn in the wilderness is profound and beautiful. I highly recommend Stephen Cottrell’s book on this series of paintings.
Spencer, in commenting on his own series of paintings, said “‘In Christ, God beholds his creation, and this time has a mysterious occasion to associate himself with it. In this visitation, he contemplates the many familiar humble objects and places: the declivities, holes, pit-banks, boulders, rocks, hills, fields, ditches and so on. The thought of Christ considering all these seems to me to fulfill and consummate the life-wishes and meaning of all these things.”
Cottrell, writing about the painting in the series that’s entitled The Scorpion (below) writes:
“Jesus holding the scorpion is also a temptation. It is not what he has asked for. He has resisted turning the stones to bread, but he still longs for food. He is hungry; instead there are stones at his feet. He longs for an egg or a fish. Instead he is given a scorpion. He is asked to receive the thing he fears, the thing that could kill him.”
Here’s the Spencer painting that my own is riffing off of.