Sunday, November 24, 2019

Matthew 3.1-12: And You're Missing It

John's message is very clear: Repent because the kingdom of heaven has come near. (Matthew 3:2) What seems more implied is that the people are missing this close encounter with the kingdom of God. Repent. The kingdom of heaven has come near and you are missing it! The ax is at the foot of the tree. All it will take is one blow, and you don't even see that it is there. Repent!

Hard to imagine, we might think. Hard to imagine that there is Jesus walking around and folks are missing it. They are going about their lives, trying to survive in the face of an occupying army. Trying to make a living, find enough food for their children, get through each day. Their attention is on other things, and so they miss Jesus, who looks like all the other people they see every day.

It's easy to miss what might be in plain sight. For example, the paintings here. Do you know them? Recognize them? Are they related in any way?
(Left) Leonardo da Vinci. Last Supper. 1495-1498. Milan: S. Maria delle Grazie. 
(Right) Vincent Van Gogh. Cafe Terrace at Night. 1888. Otterlo, Netherlands: Kroller-Muller Museum. 

Maybe. Depending on what you see.

According to some scholars (and viewers), Van Gogh is paying homage to the Leonardo on the right. On the cafe terrace are twelve figures in and among the tables. The central figure (wearing white) has a window behind his head. In the Van Gogh painting, the window pane lines form a cross behind him. The figures are seated at tables on a terrace, rendered in one-point perspective. Those things are also true of the Leonardo. Is the evidence convincing to you? Is it there and we've been missing it all these years because we see a cafe terrace at night and are satisfied with that?

The Leonardo on the right has been studied and copied and referenced for five hundred years. It is the prototype of last suppers. Figures at a table. One-point perspective. Window behind the head of the central figure. Easily read. But maybe there is something that we aren't seeing. What if there were music in the painting? What if we've been walking by, staring, studying this painting for half a millennium...and we've missed it?

Jesus looked like everyone else. He lived like everyone else. But despite appearances he wasn't like everyone else, and many of the people around him missed it. John was trying to help them. By letting them know that the kingdom of heaven was not to be missed.

For thoughts on vipers (Matthew 3:1-12) see this week's Art&Faith Matters on Facebook

For additional thoughts on Isaiah 11:1-10, click here.

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