In the wake of the recent fresco restoration disaster, in which a painting of Jesus was badly damaged, I thought it’d be worth exploring the difference between art and Jesus.
If you ever went to an art museum as a child, you probably saw a painting that compelled you to get closer. You inched up to the line, you leaned forward to inspect the colors and brush strokes, and your hand raised slowly from your side toward the canvas as if drawn by a magnet.
Then you were interrupted.
“SIR, PLEASE STEP BACK FROM THE PAINTING,” boomed an authoritative voice from behind you. It belonged to a museum employee in a dark polyester blazer, employed and positioned and empowered by the museum to protect the works on display.
“I wasn’t gonna touch it,” you muttered to yourself. Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t. It didn’t matter. The works on display at a museum are far too valuable and far too vulnerable — the employees can’t give leaners-in the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because God only knows what you or someone else would’ve done to that painting. And once it was done, it may not have come undone.
So, caution and protection and vigilance are the order of the day for museums. Images and other artifacts have been created, revered, acquired, and displayed — now they must be preserved. This is the way it should be with paintings.
But here’s the thing: Jesus is not a painting. He’s the image of God, yes (2 Cor. 4:4). But we need not fret over his safety.
Unlike the now infamous Ecce Homo, Jesus cannot be damaged by inept or sinister human hands. Unlike the Mona Lisa, the glory of Christ isn’t slowly fading. Unlike any number of priceless works, Jesus does not require the security theater of a velvet rope.
Jesus is valuable, yes, but that doesn’t mean he needs us to keep watch over him with guards and cameras and lasers. Unlike a Van Gogh or Rembrandt masterpiece, Jesus is inherently tactile.
To all who are compelled and curious and moved to lean in, he invites them to touch, taste, and wrestle. We need not shoo them away because Jesus is not a painting. Rather, our job is to be the anti-guards — we’re supposed to invite people in and encourage them to experience Jesus for themselves.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.