The “Son of Man Series” by Susan Easton Black, Artwork by Liz Lemon Swindle
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
Who is this Son of Man?
Just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we read in the gospel of John a discussion the Savior had with “certain Greeks” who had come to Philip seeking an audience with Jesus. Knowing his hour was near, the Lord prophesied of his own death – that if he were “lifted up” he would “draw all men unto him.”
Despite the miracles they had seen, including hearing the voice of the Father, the people who gathered to question Jesus answered him without faith, “How sayest thou, the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” And John concludes, “They believed not on him” (John 12: 32-37).
I returned to this account in the New Testament after reading Susan Easton Black’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry and miracles. The book is titled Son of Man – Miracles of Jesus . It is the second volume in a series of three gorgeous hardbound books collaboratively compiled by Susan Easton Black and her close friend – acclaimed artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Their combined artistic and literary effort has produced one of the most meditative and inspiring works I have encountered.
I have loved all three books – the last of which, Son of Man – King of Kings , was released in September 2007. (The first is titled Son of Man – The Early Years .)
Together, Black and Swindle make us pause and ask – indeed, who is this Son of Man? The differing tenor in our question, however, is that we believe.
The Miracle Worker of Galilee
Individual life circumstances generate unique longings for certain answers. I often keep a vigilant eye for comfort or answers in the books I choose for review. This month I felt drawn to pour over the miracles of Jesus’ ministry.
While visiting with family a couple weeks ago, I noticed Mom had Black and Swindle’s book out and was reading occasionally from it. My mom is a cancer survivor. Her life is joyful evidence that the Lord does work miracles. Thirteen years ago she faced the unknowns of a malignant brain tumor. Through the power of the priesthood, faith, and God’s will, we have had her these many years, cancer free. News came this month, however, that the tumor has returned. Shocked, disappointed, but not discouraged, we have rallied our family in faith once again, fully expecting another miracle.
Mom has adopted the Lord’s counsel to Jairus, before he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, as her own. “Fear not: believe only” (Luke 8:50).
She has read often from Black’s words about Jesus’ healings. She has paused over Swindle’s art as it depicts the return of only one leper, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, The Lord’s rescuing reach for Peter in the water. Remembering these stories and their reality brings her hope, a steady heart, and peace.
So I took the book home with me, to borrow for a week, and I have been deeply touched by the insights Black offers and the way Swindle helps us “see” into the past, teaching us about the ancient world in which Christ moved. They have helped me imagine what it would be like to be near Him – what kind of faith I would need if I were to run to him amid a throng of followers and beg him to heal my Mother. For I would. And in my own way, I have.
Black writes the following in preface to the book.
As with every life, there comes a time when the Master’s touch is needed. For me, that time came when a newborn grandson’s life hung in the balance. For Liz, it came when her son Bryun was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Both of us, dearest friends, wondered aloud where we could turn for peace? Where is our solace? The clear and unmistakable answer received by both of us was Jesus, the miracle worker of Galilee .
Would the good shepherd, who watched over and cared for the lambs in Judaea , be mindful of our loved ones? In humble gratitude, we announce that the miracles recorded in yesteryears are not that far distant. His infinite care and miraculous power are felt today. We rejoice in the miracles of antiquity, and humbly acknowledge the miraculous blessings that have occurred in the lives of our loved ones (7).
Narrating Christ’s Ministry
Susan Easton Black is a gifted storyteller. I have listened to her in Nauvoo, talk about the life of the prophet Joseph, detailing particulars about his goings and doings without one page of notes. She has the ability to land you lucidly in a certain place and time by explaining the culture, the political atmosphere, the history of the people involved. She does this beautifully throughout the Son of Man Series .
Here is one example as she talks about Jesus’ return to Jerusalem for Passover:
Those days spent in Jerusalem were crowded days, days in which thousands of pilgrims walked the streets of the Holy City , unaware of the events about to unfold. These pilgrims, dressed in festive white, were looking forward to being greeted as long-time friends by fellow worshipers. Curtains hung over doorways suggested to passersby the hospitality awaiting them within. Strangers were freely offered bed and board, a loan of domestic animals for sacrifice, and a room to eat a Pascal Lamb. This was Passover week, a joyous reunion for Israelites from near and far. But Jesus knew that this Passover week was different than all others. For this week – the week of his atoning sacrifice – would forever change the course of humanity (46).
Black explains Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane as a “sacrificial miracle” – the greatest of all the miracles wrought. She continues:
There is nothing to compare to the mystery of redemption that night in the Garden of Gethsemane . Finite minds cannot comprehend how Jesus ransomed himself for the redemption of all. But they do know that in that garden, hallowed by sacrifice, Jesus “descended below all things as he prepared himself to rise above them all” (55).
And here is the miracle.
For this was the night . in which his unfailing love for all the generations of mankind would be tested. Just as the heavy stone of the oil press crushed the olives to provide consecrated oil to heal the sick, so the heavy burden of the sins and sorrow of the world would press upon Jesus this night to grant healing for all the sick throughout time (52).
Nothing is more miraculous, more humbling, more sublime, than the Savior’s devoted sacrificial act. Nothing. It puts our own suffering in perspective and soundly reminds us who it is that bestows peace, heals all wounds, and restores all losses.
Painting His Ministry
Swindle’s art is equally moving. Her portrayal of Christ in Gethsemane depicts him tearfully clenching the ground while darkness surrounds him and red poppies allude to the drops of blood he shed on our behalf. I love her attention to detail, the play of light and dark, the visceral tangibility of her work. Some pages are filled with full color images; some are enhanced by smaller, black and white sketches. The sketches are some of my favorites. I was especially touched by her sketch of the angel that appeared from heaven to strengthen Jesus in Gethsemane .
Swindle’s art is masterful, raw with emotion and real. It makes up the rich and equal other half of the book’s enlightening and powerful narrative. Much of it I had never seen before.
Lift Up Your Hearts
A dear Catholic friend of mine recently mentioned to me that sometimes we are required to participate in Christ’s suffering, so that we might know Him. Another friend reminded me that we learn at the edges – things about God and his love that just aren’t accessible in the push and pull of every day. My family is realizing once again, how true these bits of wisdom really are.
Black’s concluding thoughts resonate a similar positivity:
Dear readers, lift up your hearts in praise to God. Let your rejoicing never cease. Though tribulations may rage abroad . the miracle Jesus wrought that night [can] comfort you with a peace that surpasses all understanding (56).
I highly recommend the Son of Man Series for anyone who loves the Savior. It would make a wonderful gift for a Christian friend of another faith or a family member in need. Susan Easton Black and Liz Lemon Swindle are a tremendous team. I found comfort and answers in their book for the miracles of Jesus continually teach a need for gratitude, the source of peace, and the power of belief. I will marvel at the miracle of the Savior’s sacrifice as I seek his healing touch.
“And as many as touched him were made whole, and he healed them all. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet” (35).