When I was a child, I wondered why Rembrandt painted himself with a blue beret in this scene of the Crucifixion. Besides, he depicted himself on the side of crucifying Jesus. My naive mind at that time even thought that he would not like Jesus.
After many years, seeing a number of his paintings on the Biblical topics; however, it seems to me his intention is clear. He put himself as a cameo, not on a whim, but with his sincere humility.
It is his confession of faith. It is his reflection that through our confession and repentance we all realize we did crucify Him. Jesus died for those who crucified Him.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:6-8
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.John 1:29
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.John 3:16
Spending the days of Holy Week and reflecting on the Passion, we usually tend to focus on the sufferings of Jesus Christ; of course, nothing wrong with this. Various austerities including fasting are for this purpose.
Another way of reflection, however, is to put ourselves on the side of people who crucified Him.
As mentioned in this entry, we are indeed those mobs who misunderstood, got disappointed, and eventually shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.Luke 23:20-21
Even we are like His disciples who hid themselves; and like Peter who denied Jesus three times with selfish fear.
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.Matthew 26:69-75
Rembrandt was born on 15 July 1606 in Leiden, in the Dutch Republic. His mother was a Catholic, while his father belonged to the Reformation Protestant. He also had Jewish neighborhoods. He had grown up in such ecumenical environment. And it seems to me that all his paintings on the Biblical scenes prove this fact. His works authentically embrace the breadth and depth of total Christianity. It is impossible not to be moved by his depictions.
It was Rembrandt’s work The Return of Prodigal Son that Henri Nouwen decided to write the same title of his book as part of his spiritual journey:
I knew that Rembrandt deeply understood this spiritual homecoming. I knew that, when Rembrandt painted his Prodigal Son, he had lived a life that had left him with no doubt about his true and final home. I felt that, if I could meet Rembrandt right where he had painted father and son, God and humanity, compassion and misery, in one circle of love, I would come to know as much as I ever would about death and life. I also sensed the hope that through Rembrandt’s masterpiece I would one day be able to express what I most wanted to say about love.The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
Like this entry, I would also like to talk with Rembrandt, saying: Yes, I agree. We crucified Jesus. And Jesus took away our sins and the sins of the world. And we are all His prodigal sons.