No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. I Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)
The peasant couple in the painting by Jean Francois Millet are praying The Angelus an ancient devotion of the western church common among Roman Catholics and to a much lesser extent in Anglo-Catholic and High Lutheran circles. It was a practice I was unfamiliar with until my adult life when I came to work for a Catholic institution.
What was familiar to me, however, were my parents quoting Paul telling me that God would give me no challenge that I could not face. In my juvenile mind I had yet to equate the words with temptation and thought all my challenges would be small as I was small. Even when great challenges arose I did have my family to fall back on. Loving parents was one of the great gifts Providence had given to me.
I did grow up though, for the most part. I learned I lived in a messy world filled with big challenges and moral ambiguity. To be sure I was not unique in that way. Paul did say that the testing we face is common to everyone. I also learned my loving parents lived in this same complex world and did not always get it right. Besides I did not always have them to turn to.
This brings me to Millet’s peasant couple. They surely live in a world that is harsher than what most of us moderns face and being human they must also face their share of temptation. They are almost certainly too absent of loving parents who have probably gone before them.
They are not, however, really absent of a loving Father and mother. And as they stand in the morning sun they practice an ancient devotion asking their mother Mary be with them. (“Mary being the mother of our Lord is the mother of us all” Martin Luther, Christmas Sermon 1529.) They are likely too to pray the Our Father. In doing these things the peasant couple have seen that way in which they may face the trials of life. It is really not so different than the way any child in a loving family grows to face tribulation. And are we not all children of a loving Heavenly Father? Paul said there was no testing that you could not endure. He did not say you had to go it alone though. There is no better time than Lent to realize this. What we can learn from the peasant couple in this painting is that we do not get to avoid the trials of life, but we do have a mother and Father to help us through these.