As a tribute to Saint Matthew the Apostle, a tax collector of another era, I offer another of Pablo Picasso’s works during his blue period, the Two Sisters. I am not sure why but there is something about the paintings from this period of Picasso’s work that hold a fatal allure for me and stirs in me something that no other works of art have, so far, been able to match. I think it may have something to do with, as one website puts it,  the fact that his ever returning theme is the desolation of social outsiders, whether they were prisoners, beggars, circus people or poor or despairing people in general.” A good friend and clerical mentor is very fond of another work that exemplifies this thematic, that is “El Loco” also pictured above. Talk about the picture of an outsider, I have actually seen people on the streets of Columbia closely resembling this figure.
This appeal to me may also have something to do with the fact that, for some reason, I have always felt like a “social outsider” though because of my background and socio-economic status I have absolutely no reason to feel that way. And another factor may be that, one cannot walk outside one’s door these days in Columbia, South Carolina without encountering social outsiders in droves. But then again, perhaps, my religious belief and veneration of Jesus the Christ has something to do with this also because Jesus was the quintessential outsider. He exemplified a selfless prophetic lifestyle that none of us will ever be able to totally understand much less attain. His rejection of the conventional is exemplified in the Gospel prescribed for our remembrance of Saint Matthew today. In Matthew 9:9-13 Jesus passes Matthew, a tax collector for the Roman government, and says to him “Follow me” and Matthew by some force, which I am sure he did not fully understand rationally, leaves his bench and follows him. Then the passage recounts that as he, Jesus, sat at table many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And then the Pharisees who were known to be very upright and pious asked a disciple “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus hearing this question answered that “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. … “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So in his grief Picasso’s sight was opened and he, perhaps unknowingly, turned his art to exemplifying the “outsiders” of this world, those who are the sick, and those who are sinners in conventional eyes. These paintings came from a grief that touched his very soul as he raised up through his art the rejected of humanity. And, as he venerated the outsiders of humanity he venerated the Christ himself.
As for the Two Sisters I quote from the website:
A significant influence on Picasso’s blue period paintings was his visit to a woman’s prison called St. Lazare in Paris, where nuns served as guards. The Two Sisters is an example of how Picasso used to mix daily reality with Christian iconography. The posture and gestures of the women were derived from the way artists depict the visitation, the color blue symbolizing Mary, the Mother of God. The meeting, or visitation, refers to the meeting between Mary, Mother of God and the mother of John the Baptist.
So as we enjoy the works of this great artist let us call to mind the outsiders of this world he sought to venerate through his work and of whom not the least was our Lord himself. Let us open our eyes and our heart to those who are outsiders to ourselves as we can never be sure when or in whom we might encounter our Lord himself.