A little over a year and a half ago, Jonathan and I traveled to Paris, France as part of our 10 year anniversary celebration. We only spent a few days there and we had to cram all the tourist-y things in, so we made a strategic plan and decided that sleep was overrated. This being our first time in Paris, we knew that we wanted to visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. I’ve never been super interested in art as a whole, but it didn’t really matter - the Mona Lisa is iconic. We arrived at the Louvre a bit before it opened and, having done some internet research, Jonathan mapped out the most direct route to get to our girl before the rest of the tourists in Paris made it there. We were mildly successful in that we made it to the room where the Mona Lisa is displayed about the same time as 75 others. Fortunately, we were able to see her famous smirk and get a good picture or two. I mentally checked that off my bucket list as we turned to leave that room to head to the next famous piece of artwork. But what hung on the wall behind me made me stop in my tracks. On the wall opposite the Mona Lisa was a painting that was roughly 22 feet tall and 23 feet wide. It was massive! Yet, in our haste to see Mona, we had missed it completely. We stood for a moment with backs facing the Mona Lisa and marveled at this exceptionally large and beautifully painted piece of art entitled “The Wedding Feast at Cana.” This painting, depicting Jesus’ first miracle, was created by Paolo Veronese circa 1563. I stood in awe as this was by far the largest piece of artwork I’d ever seen, and yet, I couldn’t help but notice that no one else was looking at it but us. All the other people in that room were huddled together around a painting that was no more than two and a half feet tall. And they were missing the beauty that was just behind them. Missing it completely because they were so focused on something else. Sadly, I had almost missed it too.
The crazy thing is (and no offense to our artsy readers) I don’t even really understand why the Mona Lisa is so popular. I, for sure, appreciate it’s uniqueness and the history behind both the painting and painter, but it doesn’t really evoke much emotion from me. The Wedding Feast at Cana, however, is impressive to me first because of the sheer size of it. Not to mention, it is a beautiful and colorful depiction of the artist’s interpretation of this famous Biblical event. It is a masterpiece in its own right, and yet I wonder how many people even know that it’s there. Judging from how many people were there looking at it that day, not many. Everyone was so focused on the popular image in the room, they were missing the beauty of another.
It is not lost on me how much this brief instance symbolizes the pull between following culture and following Christ. We tend to go after the popular. We often pursue the famous. We idolize what the world says is a “masterpiece.” We elbow, shove, and push our way through the masses for fear of missing out on something. But in doing so, we do often miss out on something - a much more important Someone. If we finally do turn around long enough for our attention to be captured, we discover that there’s something bigger - something better - waiting to be discovered. In the Louvre, it was a masterful painting of Jesus. For believers, its Jesus Himself. We may be deceived and distracted into following the crowd for a time, but praise the Lord for the moment when our heads are turned and our eyes are opened to see what we’ve been missing. Through Jesus’ invitation to salvation, we are drawn into relationship with the Master and soon forget why we were searching for anything else in the first place.
Once we’ve turned, however, we can’t expect that the masses will follow. They most likely won’t. They’ll most likely stand huddled with their backs to the Masterpiece we’ve discovered just on the opposite wall. We’ll stand, backs to the crowd, having traded the popular for the sacred, but we may stand alone. This is not to say that we choose to isolate ourselves from the world, but only that we are set apart from it in a way that demonstrates our faithfulness and obedience to the Lord Jesus. Friends, this is, in essence, the Christian life. It is our first priority to seek the Kingdom of God, despite the temptations of this world. Jesus Himself preached this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” - Matthew 6:33
There are many things to distract us. There are many things that we are tempted to worry about or enticed to pursue. But we are called to deny the flesh, including our own sinful nature, and the lure of worldly things. We are to take up our cross and follow Jesus, and that looks like turning away from the popular or stepping out of the masses in order to stand in awe of the Master and His work.
We will all at times find ourselves having been drawn back in with the crowd, lured by the popular and the pretty. But if we are willing to simply turn around, we will be instantly reminded of what’s waiting for us - of Who is waiting for us. Calling us. Pursuing us.
It is no coincidence that the subject of the masterpiece I discovered that day was Jesus. It was by no accident that the artwork depicted Jesus’ first miracle - water to wine. True transformation. A total turn-around. That’s what we’re called to, friends. If we’re willing. If we’re seeking Him. If we’ll just turn around.
What we will find is a Masterpiece.