Jerry Earl Johnston: 2 paintings, 2 poles in the life of Jesus

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" by Heinrich Hofmann, on loan to the BYU Museum of Art for its Sacred Gifts: The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz exhibit from the Riverside Church in New York City.

BYU Museum of Art

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It took us a while, but my wife and I finally made it to the BYU Museum of Art for the "Sacred Gifts" exhibit. It’s where works by painters Carl Bloch, Frans Schwartz and Heinrich Hofmann offer glimpses into the life of Jesus.

And, as usual, Carol and I chose different approaches.

My wife is a career educator who loves to learn. She prizes information. With her headphones and packet of brochures, she drinks from any and all founts of knowledge.

She’s our family scriptorian and librarian.

I’m the family philosopher.

I slosh around in the middle of things and hope to soak up whatever comes my way.

And while soaking up "Sacred Gifts," I found myself bobbing back and forth between two Hofmann paintings: “Jesus in the Temple” and “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler.”

I’d look at one, then the other.

Back and forth.

For Mormons of a certain age, "Jesus in the Temple" is as famous as the "Mona Lisa." Decades ago, it hung in every Junior Sunday School room and appeared on hand-held funeral parlor fans that once passed for air conditioning.

"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" is well-known, too — though usually the young ruler gets trimmed away to leave a portrait of Jesus, eyes filled with affection.

Jesus in the temple.

Jesus in the town square.

Two sides of the same Savior.

In the temple painting, the eyes of the elders are on the boy Jesus; but his eyes are elsewhere. He stares beyond the frame of the picture into the eternities, into a heaven only he can see.

He stands alone, gazing beyond the temple veil.

In the painting of the rich young ruler, however, Jesus is completely absorbed in those around him. His eyes stare at the young dandy and show — as the scripture says — how much he loved the boy.

Poverty-stricken souls lurk in the shadows of the painting. The young man’s riches could ease their suffering. But even though the boy lacks the will to part with his money, Jesus still loves him. He knows the young ruler is trapped by his riches, just as the beggars are trapped by poverty.

Both need a savior.

As I moved between those two paintings, it occurred to me they formed the two poles of the Savior’s life. For perspective, he’d go to the desert, to the mountain or into the temple.

Then, when filled with visions of the kingdom, he’d return to the town square to minister.

Back and forth.

Forth and back.

Just as I had been moving at the exhibit.

Just as I should also move in my day-to-day life — to the temple for glimpses of heaven, then back to the street to help those in need.

Into the temple, then out into the town.

Out of the town and back to the temple.

Back and forth.

Forth and back.

Like Joseph and Mary, the first place we should look for Jesus is in the temple.

But unlike Christ’s parents, we should never leave him there.

We should remember to take him with us as we go back into the world of beggars, lepers and rich young rulers seeking to free themselves from their chains.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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