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During his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh painted a number of works with the sower and with wheat fields. This particular image is one of the sower with the setting sun, and stands out by the Japanese-style tree transecting the image. The use of color is also remarkable: the yellow sun, green sky, pink clouds, purple fields, the black-blue tree and the blue-green figure give us a surreal color palette. We feel it’s the end of a cold day, despite the large sun. The surreal colors also hint at an otherworldly reality. The image is deeply evocative of death and letting go, though the subject matter of sowing seeds also brings with it the themes of hope and anticipation of new life.
Three elements form the major parts of the image: the yellow sun, the dark tree branch, and the blue-green figure of the sower. For van Gogh, these were regular symbols; the sun evoked the divine and the sower anticipated the future. These two together give us a sense of the end times with hope for the Reign of God. Along these lines, the tree, especially in its stark darkness as it transects the image, is evocative of the cross. One does not get to experience the promise of future hope and fullness without grappling with the reality of the cross.
A beautiful gesture offered by the sower is one of letting go. Casting the golden seeds on the purple ground is more than just a perfunctory act—it is letting go, literally and figuratively, so that these seeds may find good soil and so that new life may emerge. Jesus’ words from the Gospel echo throughout the painting: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Death here pertains to the seed, to Jesus foreshadowing his own Passion, and to each of us facing finitude, both daily and at the end of our lives. Yet, the seeds which the sower drops are golden, reflecting the large sun dominating the back of the image and reflecting the eternal life of the divine. In the field, the sower carries on, even as he nears the tree, with determination, resolve, and hope.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, director of ministerial formation at Saint John's University School of Theology and Seminary.
In Session 8 of Finding God, Grade 3, children are led through a reflective prayer service. As the catechist, you may choose to play a song from the Finding God music CD, called “Here I Am, God,” as the children settle and prepare for the prayer service. Once relaxed and ready, guide children through a meditation in which they imagine meeting Jesus and Peter. Tell children that this is an opportunity to use their imagination in prayer. Children are encouraged to note the colors, the sounds, and the smells of the landscape they are in, and what Jesus and Peter and the other Apostles talk about. Then guide the children to picture themselves in the scene and to speak with Jesus. Allow the children a few moments of silence to speak to Jesus in their hearts.
When finished, say: Like the sower in this painting, we do our best to carry on God’s work even when we come to a crossroads or barrier in our path. Whenever we feel uncertain, we should talk to Jesus, meet him in our prayers, and ask for strength to continue on our faithful journey. Encourage children to think of themselves as the sower, toiling away in the golden sun, when they have difficult choices to make. Remind them that God is always with us.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Also see Arts & Faith: Lent Cycle A and Lent Cycle C, and Using Arts & Faith: Lent with the RCIA