This spoof of Rockwell’s famous self-portrait is going around the internet as an attempt to be a pejorative statement. There have been conservative pundits who believe there is a messiah message being sent about President Obama by the liberal left.
But from an Universalist Christian theology perspective the message is far from pejorative and is in fact a very positive one. We are all made in the image of God and therefore something of God is revealed in our lives. And for Christians who believe that Jesus lives within our hearts then when we look at one another we should see the God who lives within shining out of them to us. Jesus for many Christians represents not only the messiah who saves humanity from sin but also the ideal, the best of humanity, the best of who we can be.
There is an old story about an old monastery that was dying. There was no longer any life or zest in the monks who worked and prayed there. The Abbott of that monastery was friends with the Rabbi. So one day the Abbott goes off to speak with his friend the Rabbi about his concerns for the monastery. The Rabbi had no words of wisdom as his synagogue was also dying. And so the two old men cried together with their grief. And as they cried and prayed together the Rabbi comes across a passage about the Messiah coming. The Rabbi’s face begins to glow and he says that he believes the messiah is already come and is living at the Monastery.
And so it was time for the Abbott to return to the Monastery. And the monks ask him if there was any special wisdom that the Rabbi shared with the Abbott. The Abbott shook his head sadly, no; just some nonsense that the Messiah is here living among us at the Monastery.
The monks heard these words and wondered, who could it be? As they pondered the words of the messiah living among them, they began to wonder if it was one of them. And has they thought of each of them, they remembered how awful they treated each other. If Brother Mathias was the messiah, why he must think I am the dregs of the world for how I have piled on him the work I did not want to do. If Brother Sebastian was the messiah why he must think I am just the worst as I am always scolding him about being late for prayers. And on and one the wondering went, each examining their own behavior towards the messiah living among them.
And so in time the brothers began to change their behavior to the other brothers of the monastery, not wanting to do anything that would offend the messiah. The monastery began to change. It was somehow more inviting to the villagers and they would come up and partake in the noonday meal. And the monks would go into the village more and share their farm grown goods with the poor. The synagogue also began to show some new life with children coming to learn from the Rabbi the teachings of the Torah. The messiah was indeed living among them. The messiah was in each of them.
For all of humanity’s faults, for all the human failings that we carry, there still lies within each of us, a spark of something transformative, of something divine that beckons us to be all that we can be. This painting reveals not a president with a messiah complex but rather a human being who sees beyond the frailties of humanity towards a more compassionate and loving reality. We all should be able to look into the mirror and see our best potential peering back out at us. And then find the strength to live it. May it be so. Blessings,