A prophet from among you

A prophet is one who understands what is happening, warns about dangers if people do not change their way of thinking and foresees great joy if they do. If that is a fair definition then George Bellows was a prophet. He was an American painter around the turn of the last century. He was intensely aware that the capitalism on which New York prided itself meant a hard insecure life for the many people who propped up the system.

The Titanic was the greatest ship of the time and she was due to dock in New York in April 1912.  She was also the epitome of the “unacceptable face” of capitalism. The splendour of her state rooms, where the rich were lodged in luxury, contrasted sharply with the basic space allotted to those who travelled steerage, at the cheapest fare. Inequalities reached out to those on land and the long shore men, those who loaded and unloaded the cargo, depended on piecemeal work.

These last caught Bellows’ attention and he tried to alert people to their insecure existence by composing a picture which would hang in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art at the same time as the Titanic docked in the harbour. His picture, Men at the Docks, which can be viewed on the BBC website, Moving Pictures, shows a group of men standing around in the snow by the icy water waiting to be called for work. The bulk of a large ship dominates the middle distance and further away looms the tall buildings of the city.

It is cold, very cold, and they stand around hoping. You sense the unfairness of it and anger boils within as you recall the rich lifestyles of those who give no thought to the insecurity of these men on whom the wealth of the rich is founded.

Did Bellows’ work make an impact? Does the work of any prophet have an impact? Moses promised that God “would raise up a prophet from among you and I will put my words into his mouth.” But did it make any difference? Did Israel listen? Did the capitalists of the twentieth century leave us a better world in the twenty first? Are we any nearer to a compassionate society where the rich give some thought to the poor?

Jesus was the prophet Moses spoke of and when he came he was recognised by the evil spirits of the world who knew he had come to destroy them. They cried out their recognition but he told them to be quiet. He could not destroy their power without the consent of the people they possessed. He can only change our world if we want to. Bellows can paint as many pictures as he likes but if no one looks at them and reflects on their meaning he is wasting his time.

28 January 2018                                  Sunday 4 B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20                       1 Corinthians 7:32-35                         Mark 1:21-28

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