I stand in the Louvre Museum along with a few hundred tourists. All of our necks are craned to see one of the most famous paintings in the world: the Mona Lisa.
Dozens of mobile phones and cameras are lifted high in the air to capture Leonardo da Vinci’s treasured work, and behind the bulletproof glass, the Mona Lisa keeps smiling that famous yet subtle half-smile. (She’s been smiling like that for more than 500 years.)
Like everyone else, I snap my obligatory photo of her small portrait.
I turn to leave the room only to face an unexpected surprise. On the opposite wall hangs another painting, one of the most fantastic and gigantic paintings I’ve ever seen. It’s The Wedding Feast at Cana. It depicts Jesus’ first recorded miracle, when He turns water to wine at a wedding party. The painting is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, and I find out later that the artist spent more than a year painting it.
Standing frozen in front of the painting, I can’t stop thinking how almost no one in the room realizes that such an exquisite wonder spans the length of the opposite wall behind them.
A masterpiece is practically breathing down our necks, and we are utterly clueless.
I know I can be a little dramatic and sentimental, especially when it comes to a great metaphor involving art, but as I stand there, I feel a lump rise up in my throat.
This is who we have become as a people while functioning in this distracting, buzzing, crowded world that begs for our attention. We are so busy craning our necks to see what everyone else is looking at, so busy following the crowd, so busy keeping up with the Joneses, that we’re missing the water-to-wine miracles happening over our shoulders. We chase the next big thing, the next big name on Instagram, the latest trend, the newest fad diet.
Meanwhile, we miss the beauty hidden in plain sight.
I’m not saying you are a heathen if you make a beeline for a Mona Lisa; she is a treasure in her own right. I’m only saying this gallery offers a pretty accurate metaphor for a very devastating truth: It’s so tempting to follow the crowd instead of Christ.
Standing in this gallery in Paris, I ask myself some important questions that will stick with me for weeks after I return home to Iowa.
In my own search for meaning and beauty, what do I turn my back on?
How do my priorities inform my daily actions?
When the crowd moves, am I willing to stand firmly in the place where I stay closest to Jesus?
This is the one question we all need to ask ourselves today: Where will I fix my eyes?
Today, I repent of the times when I have turned my back on Jesus. I confess how I have been distracted. I admit how I follow the crowd.
In this moment of quiet confession with you, I participate in the equally important duty of offering thanks. I express deep gratitude for a Savior who is relentlessly lavishing this world with grace and beauty — even when we are clueless. I pray, Dear Lord, turn me around, so I can face the miracle of You!
As Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven. And every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
These words, in this place today, are my way of taking off my shoes. Will you join me? I saved a spot for you, at a wedding feast, in a museum, by a bush afire with God.