The great Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth is known to have kept a print of Matthias Grunewald’s painting of the crucifixion hanging over his desk in his study. Like Barth, this painting is powerful and intense. Grunewald painted this piece for a monastery where the monks cared for sufferers of the plague and those with skin diseases. In this work, Christ is in the center, hanging on the cross, emaciated and covered in sores. Mary and the beloved disciple are mourning to one side. On the other side stands John the Baptist, holding a Bible and stretching out a boney finger to point at Christ. Above him is a quote written in Latin that appears later on in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Barth was struck by this painting, particularly this image of John. He said that this is what Christians are called to do: point the way to Christ. To be that finger of John the Baptist. To be a sign of Christ’s love, of Christ’s peace, of Christ’s joy, maybe even a sign of Christ’s wounds and suffering.
We are not called to be Christ ourselves. We could not be that even if we wanted to. We are simply called to be that boney finger of John the Baptist, stretching out, pointing and saying, “Look, over there. Can you see it? It’s what you’ve been waiting for.”
What is the difference in being the presence of Christ and pointing to the presence of Christ?
God, help me to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world this day. Amen.