w paintings throughout the world are as well known as Da Vincis Mona Lisa (or La Gioconda, as the Italians refer to her). The image is also one of the most reproduced of any other, not only in literal copies, but in all manor of creative twists on the original. With up to 6 million people visiting her in the Louvre every year, she is considered the most famous painting in the world.
It is surprising for many viewers, then, when they find themselves underwhelmed by the experience. Guides at the Louvre have noticed many people walk away confused, perplexed and even frustrated. Many go home, complaining that they didnt get out of the experience what they had hoped. What was all the hoopla, anyway? they wonder and some never give the mysterious lady another thought.
The reasons for this are fascinating. Her very popularity (and the resulting mass reproduction) might contribute to over familiarity. In an odd twist, the very fame that leads to the many copies makes the original unremarkable. Yet, people still buy the posters and t-shirts because the fame of the picture has become more of a draw than the artwork itself. Few things illustrated this better than when the Mona Lisa was stolen and thousands lined up to stare at the empty space on the museum wall.
Jesus suffers the same fate in our Christendom world. Do an internet image search for Jesus and youll find tens of millions of results. Christian or not, His name and image surround them in one form or another (or a million others) every day, but once they pause to take a closer look (usually by looking at His followers), many are unimpressed. His fame is more famous than His actual life and teachings. And so, many move on, giving Him very little thought again. Yet, as Christendom begins to wane, people are starting to look again at Jesus with fresh eyes. This is an opportunity for Christians to share Jesus anew. But how?
On the occasions that disillusioned Louvre visitors ask their guide why they feel such disappointment with their experience, the good guides will take them around the museum to show them other paintings from the same era as the Mona Lisa. When they return to her, and the guide points out the differences- such as the ground-breaking use of subtle shading known as sfumato– the brilliance begins to become clearer. In other words, in the context of her time, Mona Lisas beauty is seen to be undeniably deserved.
In the same way, when people see Jesus in light of His context, the radical nature of His teachings and example come to life. Even more so, when we, the Church, live the incarnational truth of Jesus life and teachings, people can see His truth in their own context. How authentically we do so will impact the clarity with which people will positively re-encounter Jesus. The question is: How willing are we to pay the price to walk this out in our lives every day?
Jamie Arpin-Ricci. CJ, is a writer, 3rd order Franciscan and pastor of Little Flowers Community () an inner city church plant in Winnipeg, MB. He is the author of the forthcoming The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (IVPress, Nov 2011). He blogs regularly at www.missional.ca .