Milan is a city of contrasts. Inside the lavish beauty of its cathedral are displayed the macabre corpses of former prelates, dressed in priestly robes. The fountains of the stately Sforza Castle are thronged with gangs of pickpockets and the most aggressive flower salesmen on the planet. And it is tricky to enjoy your gelato in the plaza because of the plague of pigeons. But if you wander away from the castle and the cathedral and wander down a few side streets you will find two of Milan’s great treasures – the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio and the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The first is the famous church established by Ambrose of Milan who was instrumental in the conversion of Augustine (and whose supposed corpse can be viewed in the crypt). The second is the church which houses Da Vinci’s famous depiction of The Last Supper. If you plan to see it, you will need to reserve tickets months in advance, but the convent itself is quite beautiful and worth seeing even if you can’t see the painting.
Theories abound about Da Vinci’s model for the face of Judas in The Last Supper. As the story goes, the last two faces painted were those of Jesus and Judas. Da Vinci struggled to find someone who conveyed the loveliness of Christ and the treachery of Judas. By some accounts, Da Vinci haunted the local prisons and seedier parts of Milan and Rome looking for a face worthy of the world’s greatest treachery. Other accounts say Da Vinci used the “nagging head” of the Prior of the Convent, because of his constant complaints to the Duke of Milan that the painting would never be finished.
Da Vinci’s difficulty is understandable. The very nature of betrayal is that it is surprising. The face of betrayal rarely reflects the treachery beneath. Quite the opposite — the face of the betrayer is the face which declares unyielding loyalty and undying love, concealing a heart that is loyal only so far as self-love demands.
When you consider the definitive picture of the Last Supper, painted by the gospels, with Jesus’ shocking announcement, “one of you will betray me,” the horror in the disciple’s words as one after another they ask, “Is it I, Lord?” and the coldness of Judas’ “Is it I, Rabbi?” where would your face appear? If Da Vinci asked you to sit as a model, where would he place you?
The irony is that every face is the face of betrayal. Every disciple at that table would betray Jesus that very night. The sorrowful self-examination of the table gave way to arguments about greatness, bold claims of loyalty, gripping drowsiness, precipitous violence, complete abandonment, and loud public disavowals bolstered by oaths and cursing. The portraits painted in the gospels of these followers of Christ are shocking. Each one is a face of betrayal. But the gospel is never about good men becoming better, it is always about bad men redeemed by grace. It is the story of betrayal and forgiveness. Our own stories begin with sin, brokenness and betrayal. What matters most is what happens next?
Who is the face of betrayal? What does betrayal look like and where does it come from? And where does betrayal take us? Matthew 26 chronicles the betrayal of the disciples, but it highlights the betrayals of Judas and Peter. Their similarities are more than you imagine and their differences fewer than you might expect, yet the name ‘Judas’ is synonymous with treachery, while ‘Peter’ is honored? What made the difference?
Join us this Lord’s Day, March 24, as we examine Matthew 26 and consider the difference between despair and redemption in the wake of our own sin, brokenness and betrayal. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.