Rue de l'Épicerie, Rouen (Effect of Sunlight) by Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro

Rue de l'Épicerie, Rouen (Effect of Sunlight), 1898, Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 65.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 60.5, www.metmuseum.org

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The Economy of God

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Anyone who’s ever been to a busy city market knows the lure of the stalls: rich fare, eye-catching displays, coloured awnings, the smell of food, and the call of the sellers: come and see, come and buy!

In this painting of late-nineteenth-century Rouen in France, crowds gather at the weekly market, held in the streets and square in the shadow of the great cathedral. Engrossed with the toing and froing of city life, local people go about their business, answering the cries of the market sellers with their purchases of food and goods for the week ahead.

The cathedral bells call the crowds to a different economy, however.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price’. (Isaiah 55:1 NRSV)

A strange cry; and so contrary to the cry of the poor marketeers who need to sell for a good price to make their livelihood. God calls out to the shoppers, in the words of Isaiah, ‘why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’ (Isaiah 55:2 NRSV). True satisfaction and true sustenance lie in God.

Will the crowds make their way through the narrow way to the cathedral to receive God’s free gift of mercy? Will they come to know their place as God’s beloved children, held in the promise of his covenant with David? This chapter of Isaiah reminds the people that when they return to the Lord in penitence they will be empowered: ‘you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you’ (55:5 NRSV).

Israel will be an agent of the Lord, a voice in the marketplace, calling the people to the delights of God’s rich fare.


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