July 19, 2016
Another report on modern art and its lessons for biblical interpretation.
This painting is named, “Shaking Out the Bed.” It shows household items being flung up toward the viewer as a bed-sheet is shaken; there are also items lying on tables and the floor around the edges. The painting is thus a combination of dynamic and static elements. It’s a bit difficult to see the static elements at first, because the dynamic elements–the things flying upward–occupy the center of the painting and are visually more arresting.
This combination of movement and rest reminded me of John’s gospel. There is, of course plenty of dynamism and movement in this gospel. More than in the other gospels, in John’s gospel Jesus moves back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee. There is also more change of scene: In chapter 7, for instance, secondary characters repeatedly appear with questions and comments that both drive the narrative and guide the reader’s understanding of the narrative.
At the same time, John’s gospel is extraordinarily static in some respects. It’s filled with discourse but little action. Whole chapters go by with little but words. Jesus is reported to be in a new location without indication of how he got there or why he moved. This gospel is far more stage-like than cinematic. There are static, minimalistic stagings–we often don’t know where Jesus is and it often doesn’t matter. There are people talking, but in often in elaborately symbolic conversation.
To read John’s gospel well, we thus need to attend to both its dynamic and also its static elements.