art, writing -

Commissioned Work

Way back in the 1490s, a man of many talents  was commissioned by the French ambassador in the Holy See to sculpt one of his most well known works, the Pietà.  Upon its completion, one of the artist’s contemporaries wrote, “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.” [1]

For great work to become a fait accompli it often requires a commission from men and women with means, and it’s why posterity can enjoy and appreciate some of the world’s most famous works of art, Michelangelo’s included.

I’ve been thinking about the word Commission.  As a writer it is a welcome thought: to be sought out by someone who appreciates what you do, to partner in a new work, to bring into a reality an aesthetic dream, and to not have to expend all the energy on ends to figure out how they will meet.

The commission of the artist is a nice metaphor for a commission of another kind: the individual’s invitation into the work that will accomplish God’s ultimate dream.  In Mark 16:15 Christ invites all who follow him into commissioned work: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

Some take the words more seriously than others.  Certainly it might seem less romantic or significant than the commission of artistic work to some.  The call of Christ to all seems so democratic, so universal – “everyone is asked to go? Not just an elite few with a particular skill set?”  Scoff.

As I’ve looked at this passage which many Christians, myself included, are over-familiar with, a passage some say is only a footnote in an abruptly ended book that doesn’t really belong in the original text, I’m interested in a twice repeated phrase: “they would not believe.”

Jesus appears with the kingdom reality of the resurrection – in the flesh – to people who knew him from Adam and when those people who saw him shared the good news, they didn’t believe.  Mary Magdelene, saw the Lord in the garden and the two fellows traveling the road to Emmaus had personal encounters with Christ, but their accounts didn’t assuage the despair of those lost to the darkness of fear, hopelessness, and grief. These people who watched or heard of his public execution, who grieved his death, who were told Christ was alive by three witnesses, did not recognize the Second Adam when he rose from the dead.

It took time, is what I mean to say.  And I don’t blame them.  The first ever believers (people who already knew and had relationship with Christ) had to be told the good news three times and they had the advantage of being raised in a faith tradition expecting a Messiah and of being taught and prepared by him for the very truth that would transform their world and ours.

“Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16: 14) and right after doing so he commissioned them.

I think it important to note the context of this famous commissioned work.  It’s encouraging that Christ doesn’t belabor the point.  He confronts the disciples’ unbelief, but doesn’t get hung up on it, and then calls them into the life-changing, life-long work of sharing the good news.

For me, the question isn’t about whether we are to Go into all the world or not.  Nor is it so much about how, or where, or what responding to the call to Go looks like.  It does, however, make me curious about what our expectations are.  I think there is a prevailing sense that when Christians share the good news of Christ to the last unreached pygmy that the lights on the world as we know it will go out (or turn on), once for all.  I’m not saying that’s a wrong belief.  But I’m also not saying it’s right.

Christ said Go and we must.   We don’t go because we will trigger the apocalypse or to meet quotas of some unspoken cosmic body count. We go because we obey.  And we go because we know and understand and believe the good news. “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Sobered by such words, like master artists, skilled in our craft, may we offer the world a message that is steeped in the beauty and clarity of the truth so posterity can enjoy and appreciate the most famous work, the most astonishing fait accompli of all.  True to the metaphor, our patron has the means to ensure he meets his part of the contract for the commissioned work.  If we resolve to go, then we must meet our end of the deal: everywhere the good news.

Thank God Christ appears to us more than once, and gives ample opportunity to those who will believe. If you plan to go, prepare to go more than once.