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What's Under the Varnish?

Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven
Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

Sermon Week Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B

Scripture Summary Mark 10:21

In 2019, a famous portrait of 18th-century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife, Marie Anne, was sent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's conservation lab. The job at hand was the removal of varnish to restore the vibrancy of the great work. However, during the process, the conservation specialists discovered a hidden sketch under the painting.

Since its creation in 1788, the painting as known to the art world depicts the Lavoisiers as humble leaders of a scientific revolution. In the picture, Marie Anne leans over her husband, who is hard at work at his table of specialized instruments.

But after months of analysis using infrared imaging and other state-of-the-art techniques, the experts discovered that the original painting of Lavoisier and his wife was far less flattering, depicting the couple as wealthy nobles living a lavish lifestyle. In the artist's original depiction, the scientific instruments are absent, the table is inlaid with expensive brass details, and Marie Anne is wearing an elegant gown and fancy hat. -1

I am reminded of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most diversely talented individuals to have ever lived. Though Leonardo was never a wealthy man, he was able to intimately observe the trappings of great wealth in the court of the Duke of Milan, where he lived for 16-years. During this time, as part of a treatise he was writing on painting, Leonardo offered various instructions for painters, including advice about leading their lives. He urged fellow artists to avoid getting too wealthy, because as he said, "money is celebrated only for its own sake" and is "a magnet for envy." Regarding priorities, Leonardo believed virtue and not wealth was the key to happiness. In his treatise, he remarked, the "glory of the virtue of mortals is far greater than that of their treasures." -2

How fitting are both these stories as we read today's Gospel episode about a rich young man. Regarding his priorities, the young man believes that wealth is the key to happiness. To restore the vibrancy of his soul, if you will, he must first remove the dull varnish of selfishness.

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