This oil on wood painting by a follower of Bellini was one of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s favorites; you can see it today at the Gardner Museum in Boston. It’s an apt image to start Holy Week. I thank my wife Eleanor for bringing it to my attention.
For some who hold onto Christ primarily to confirm their already-held beliefs about the world– I wish that Jesus would be more of a stumbling block to them; more of a goad to examine their unexamined assumptions about life; more disturbing of their already-held beliefs. For others who reject Christ because, well, who has time for fairy tales?– I wish that Jesus would be less of a stumbling block to them. I wish that he would simply come and make himself known, through the strange heart-warmth, and the peace beyond words, that mark his presence.
I’ve been down both roads, and will be down both roads again, sometime or another. Faith is not a steady-state system. The authentic journey has many seasons, each with its gifts and dangers.
Our culture would do well to turn for a moment from its fevered ways to gaze on Christ– not because he is a pattern of virtue that we ought to assimilate (which makes Jesus just another commodity in the marketplace), but because he is beautiful.
Grace is in the direction of beauty. The proper response to beauty is to behold, rather than to grasp or to own. We would be a healthier culture, in all ways, if we increased our capacity to behold– rather than devour– what is beautiful.