There is a story told about the painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. Perhaps you’ve heard it? As the story goes, Da Vinci considered hundreds of different models to portray the image of Jesus before finding a man whose face conveyed the character, innocence, personality and peace that would adequately represent our Lord and Savior. Following that, one by one, he selected models who would be the inspiration for each of the twelve Apostles. Andrew, Peter, James, John… Da Vinci carefully selected models with features he felt befitted each man; but struggled to find the last one. As the story goes, it took more than three years for the painting to be completed. After some time, he finally chose a man whose face had been hardened by life on the streets and the crimes he’d committed to survive.
Da Vinci studied the man’s features and traced the expression of betrayal, the lines of bitterness and scorn upon his canvas. For weeks the man sat before him as he painted. When Da Vinci was finally finished the man asked to see his likeness on the canvas. When he discovered that Da Vinci had chosen him to depict Judas he began to weep. He turned to Da Vinci and said, “Don’t you recognize me? How have I fallen so low? How can I be Judas, the betrayer? How do you not recognize me as the same man who posed for you three years ago... when you were painting Jesus?”
There is some question as to the validity of the story and there really is no way to know for sure if it is true. Still, it presents us with a poetic opportunity to examine ourselves.
When we read a story or watch a movie we tend to connect with the character we most identify with. If you’re like most people, you identify with either the hero or the innocent underdog who gets mistreated and must find the courage to fight for truth, justice and the American Way. As the stories unfold we silently evaluate the characters and consider how we measure up to them. When a character does something wrong, or cowardly or something that leads to disaster, we run the scenario through our own imagination and consider how much smarter we would be if it were us in that situation.Its human nature, I suppose, to believe that we would have done the right thing, been smarter, braver…or more loyal.
I had a friend who told me that when he reads the Bible he always casts himself in the part of the guy who lets God down. “As I read it,” he said, “I always ask ‘how am I like that guy?’ How am I selfish or prideful or arrogant like the person in the story?” I was stunned. When I read the Bible I’d really only studied the good guys so I could learn what pleased God. I had lots of opinions about “bad guys” in the stories, but I wasn’t in the habit of asking myself how I was like them. How I was better than them, sure, but not how I was like them. I didn’t want to think I had anything in common with them at all.
As I considered what he was saying I had to admit, like it or not, sometimes I am like them. Sometimes I am the one who lets God down. I wondered how much more I might grow if I were willing to see myself as the villain in the story instead of the imperfect but always well-meaning disciple of Christ.
I don’t want to be the daughter who disappoints our Father; but sometimes I am.
I don’t want to be the believer who struggles with doubt; but sometimes I do.
I don’t want to be a disciple who is capable of betraying Jesus but - if I’m completely honest - I am.
We all are.
Facing up to the parts of ourselves that have not yet been transformed into the likeness of Christ is what leads us to the transformation we still need. It may be far more satisfying to focus on the ways in which we’ve grown but it isn’t as profitable as focusing on the ways we haven’t grown nearly enough.
Christian, we have such a long way to go to become the people He needs us to be in this world. If we can’t honestly say that we are more like Jesus today than we were this time last year… something is wrong. Perhaps we’ve become too comfortable or content with ourselves. Perhaps we think we’ve become as good as we need to be?
Yes, it’s risky to ask ourselves how we’re like the “bad guys” in the story. We might find out that we’re a lot more like them than we want to be. But that IS the work of a true disciple. We must never stop scrutinizing ourselves. We must never stop comparing our attitudes and actions toward others with the attitudes and actions of Christ.
Until we can endure the petty injustices and indignities that happen every day without retaliating, cursing or wallowing in self-pity, His character is not well-formed in us.
Until serving and sacrificing for others becomes our joy, we do not have His heart.
Until our hearts break and move us into action as much for a stranger as it does for our own family and close friends, we don’t yet love as He loves.
So long as winning an argument about who discerns the Word of God more “rightly” brings a smile to our face, we are not as much like Jesus as we should be.
We have work to do. And while we’ll never be fully conformed into the image of Christ this side of heaven … we must never stop trying.
Try it. The next time you read your Bible or watch a movie or read a book, ask yourself how you are like the bad guy, the pushy jerk, the shallow girl, the jealous friend... Be honest with yourself. Until you really see how those attitudes and behaviors hurt others and grieve the Holy Spirit you won't grow out of them. These are the things that prevent you from displaying the shinning-greatness of Christ to your family, your friends and your community. Is there anything more important than that?
Yes, it's more fun to compare ourselves to the Good Guy, but focusing on what's already good about you won't help you change the things that aren't.
“All of us, with no covering on our faces, show the shining-greatness of the Lord as in a mirror. All the time we are being changed to look like Him, with more and more of His shining-greatness.” 2 Corinthians 3:1 NLV
In His love and service,