Walking through the Scottish National Gallery, I was drawn to the strong brushwork and vibrant colors of one of many Olive Trees paintings by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. Many historians believe the work was inspired by Jesus’ experience in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. What especially caught my eye on the canvas of the painting were the small red splotches of paint among the ancient trees.
Known as the Mount of Olives because of all the olive trees located on the mountainside, Jesus went there to pray on the night that He predicted His disciple Judas would betray Him. Jesus was overwhelmed with anguish knowing the betrayal would result in His crucifixion. As He prayed, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus’ agony was evident in the garden as He prepared for the pain and humiliation of a public execution that would result in the physical shedding of His blood on that Good Friday long ago.
The red paint on Van Gogh’s painting reminds us that Jesus had to “suffer many things and be rejected” (Mark 8:31). While suffering is part of His story, however, it no longer dominates the picture. Jesus’ victory over death transforms even our suffering, allowing it to become only a part of the beautiful landscape of our lives He’s creating.