The Milkmaid, by Vermeer, 1658 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Source: Christian art

Gospel of August 25, 2022
Matthew 24:42-51

Jesus said to his disciples: “Watch, for you do not know the day when your master will come”. You can be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known what time of night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break into the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

“What kind of servant, then, is faithful enough and wise enough for the master to place over his house to give them their food in due time?

“Happy is this servant if the arrival of his master finds him in this employment. I tell you solemnly, he will place him above all that he possesses. But as for the dishonest servant who says to himself: “My master takes his time”, and who begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at a time he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Reflection on painting

Today our work of art is one of the most famous paintings in the world, The Milkmaid by Jan Vermeer. It is one of the great examples of Dutch realist genre painting and a long-time favorite of artists, critics and the public. Vermeer tenderly portrays a housekeeper performing a simple chore in a humble kitchen. It thus depicts the essence of family life and the beauty of the small actions that we accomplish within the framework of our family life. The artist seems to pay homage to the virtues of temperance, purity and hard work. Temperance is the slow pouring of liquid from one container to another, taking the time not to spill anything. Purity is conveyed by Vermeer’s highly realistic rendering of the perfectly polished copper pot hanging on the wall (reminiscent of similar shiny metallic vessels in early Dutch Annunciation pictures, Mary being the vessel for Christ), because a vessel very clean was a traditional symbol of purity. The hard work is conveyed through the overall work environment with sparse walls, coarsely textured bread, bare wood, coarse baskets and the maid with dull features, rough hands and rather manly forearms.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus calls us to possess these virtues as well and to be ready “because the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. We should continue to work hard, be vigilant and be pure in heart, because we may meet Master sooner than expected. Jesus does not tell us to be afraid or to be anxious, but to be ready and prepared to welcome him.

Just as this painting of a servant is painted with great tenderness and love for the servant depicted, God approaches us, his servants, with great tenderness and love.


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