There is a story in which Leonardo da Vinci painted “The Lord’s Last Supper” while living in Milan. He needed to find men who would serve as models for each person, as well as a model to represent our Lord Jesus Christ. One Sunday, as da Vinci was at the cathedral for liturgy, he saw a young man in the choir who, according to him, would be fitting for Christ’s face and figure. Da Vinci saw in this particular person features of love, tenderness, innocence, compassion and some other characters that we Christians must have. After some arrangements were made, this young man agreed and da Vinci painted his face as the model for our Lord. Though da Vinci found the right person for the Lord, he spent more than twenty years to find Judas’ face. He was looking for a man whose face would demonstrate despair, wickedness, greed and sin. Years after the starting date of that painting, da Vinci found a man in a prison whose face had the qualities of Judas. Being a famous artist, da Vinci was given consent to paint that prisoner as the model of Judas. As his project was approaching its final destination da Vinci was reportedly very excited. However, he noticed that the prisoner had some tension in his eyes and it was getting worse and worse with time. One day da Vinci asked the prisoner saying, “What seems to be troubling you?” After some time, the prisoner raised his head and responded by saying, “Don’t you remember me? Years ago, I was your model for the Lord Jesus.”
In today’s Gospel, we read that the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law. The disciples had picked and eaten a bit of grain as they walked through the fields. There was nothing illegal about that, God’s Law provided that anyone could eat grain in the fields. But the illegality, according to the Pharisees, was that the disciples did this on the Sabbath day. The Law of God said nothing about picking grain to eat from the fields on the Sabbath. The Law of the Sabbath was that no work should be done on the Sabbath, in order that people should enjoy a day of rest. But the Pharisees, to protect that Law, made it illegal to do what the disciples had done. Picking and eating a few bites of grain was interpreted as reaping. The Pharisees had totally missed the point of the Sabbath Law; that is, that people need rest, and, on one day of the week, they should have it. The Law was made for the benefit of people not simply to be a burdensome rule.
In His defense of the disciples, Jesus pointed out that the Law of God, even concerning the most holy things, implied exceptions to the rule in the face of human need or in the case of service to God. That is true, because God’s Laws are for the benefit of the people. They exist because of His love for us. They were never meant to cause human suffering or extend human suffering. Jesus healed people on the Sabbath—granted, it was work— because not to do so would have extended suffering for another day.
The Pharisees did not understand the Law, because they did not know and understand God and His ways of compassion. They had substituted their law in place of knowing Him. They enjoyed pointing their critical finger at others, who could not keep up with all the details of their religious laws. They were quite satisfied with themselves, until Jesus came and showed them something else.
Jesus came to changes our lives, to restore His likeness in us and to establish a path which would lead us to the Kingdom of God. As Lord of the Sabbath, He did not abolish the Sabbath or the rules they had made to protect it. Rather, He simply called them to view the rules from a standpoint of compassion. As Christians, we need to view our own rules and lives in order not to fall and lose our calling and that divine likeness that dwells within us. All that we do should enhance and never separate us from compassion and love for one another. Otherwise we would be in the same place as the young innocent man who twenty-five years ago was completely changed. Just as the miserable man had turned his back on Christ and turned his life over to sin we too might be in the same situation in ten or twenty years from now. He no longer loved the things he has loved before. And those things that were once hated and despised are now loved. Once there was love, now there was misery and hatred. Once there was hope and now there was despair. Once there was light and now there is darkness. Once he wore a face akin to that of Christ but now he had the face of the one who betrayed him. Just us this young man was, so also were the Pharisees that failed to keep the light that Christ came to offer them.
It is hard to grasp, but that person who was in that studio twenty-five years ago, once stood there for Christ. Similarly, it is hard to grasp that those Pharisees who witnessed Christ performing miracles ended up wanting to kill him and betrayed Him before Pilate. Since Christ created all of us in His likeness, today He calls us to renew our divine likeness by looking into our hearts and by examining it and confessing our sins before Him; so that we never fail to maintain within us the divine characteristics God gave us. And when things get tough, and they will, we must find the strength to ask Him to grant us mercy so that we overcome our troubles, fears, and sins. This is how we become like Christ and live in Him to whom is due glory. Amen.