It’s How You End That Matters!


There’s a little anecdote of Leonardo da Vinci, the great painter, sculptor, and inventor, about his painting The Last Supper, one of the most copied and sold works of art in all of history. It took da Vinci twenty years to finish, since it was so difficult at that time to find people who could pose as models. In fact, he had problems in starting the painting because he couldn’t find a model who could represent Jesus, someone who could reflect in his face purity, nobility, and the loveliest feelings. Also, the model needed to possess extraordinary manly beauty. Finally, he found a young man with these characteristics, and it was the first figure of the picture he painted.

Later, he went looking for the twelve apostles, whom he  painted together, leaving Judas Iscariot’s spot open, since he couldn’t find a suitable model. It had to be a person of mature age who had a face with the traces of betrayal and greed. That is why the painting remained unfinished for a long time, until they told him of a terrible criminal who had been taken prisoner. Da Vinci went to see him, and he was exactly the Judas he wanted to finish his work. So he asked the mayor to allow the prisoner to pose for him. The mayor, knowing the master’s fame, gladly accepted and ordered that the prisoner be taken to the painter’s studio, chained and accompanied by two guards.

During all that time, the prisoner showed no signs of emotion for having been chosen as a model, but remained completely quiet and distant. Finally, when da Vinci was satisfied with the result, he called the prisoner over and showed him the painting. When the prisoner saw it, he was greatly impressed and fell to his knees, crying. Surprised, da Vinci asked why he was crying, to which the prisoner responded: “Master da Vinci, don’t you remember me?”

After looking at him carefully, Da Vinci answered him, “No, I have never seen you.”

Crying and asking for forgiveness from God, the prisoner said to him, “Master, I am the young man you chose nineteen years ago to represent Jesus in this same painting.”

This story is fitting for our Gospel reading today for the start of the Great and Holy Lent. Christ, on the request of his mother, changes the water to wine, at the wedding at Cana. At the end of the gospel reading, the master of the wedding feast says, ‘normally the best wine is served first then the inferior wine, but here you have saved the best wine for last.’ There is a greater moral inference that lies at the heart of what Christ is attempting to express by way of this miracle, and that is: in life remember that is not how you begin but how you end that matters. For example, the wedding started with less quality wine and ended with better quality wine. Similarly, in life, we always tend to start out with a “bang,” but end up a mess, like the guy who initially was Jesus in the Da Vinci painting and ended up as Judas at the end.

Now, we might not be on track to develop the contrast of Jesus to Judas, but we sure do need help in this area. In life, we often start out with the “superior” wine and end up as the “inferior” wine. Christ is teaching us today that we need to take our time, be careful, be watchful, guard our emotions, and not put out all that we know and have in the initial stages, but carefully measure our approach to life situations and we will find out that in the end the result is the sweet tasting superior wine.

Here are some areas that we can improve:

Praying: Often we tend to think that we need to start praying a lot more immediately. Especially, if we have been slacking off for a long time. We might think that praying for two hours straight in the best thing to do after such a long time of prayerlessness. It’s not! What we should do is start off slowly and increase our prayer-time over a longer period of time. Even then, prayer is beyond books and songs or the Bible. Enjoying nature and God’s creation is prayer. Genuinely praying for five minutes is more valuable that long-winded prayers that are just “lip service.” In terms of prayer, start of with the inferior wine and slowly get into the superior wine.

Fasting: Don’t start fasting like a monk! Be measured in your approach. Some of us can’t handle omitting dairy from our diet and so that needs to be approached with the proper understanding. It’s not good to set a goal that we are not going to eat dairy and then at the end breaking our rule.

Faith: There are incidences or circumstances in life that cause us to grow closer to God. In such cases, some of us become “super spiritual” attending prayer meetings, calling into prayer-lines, and listening to preaching. We go head-long into a relationship with Christ but after a few month or a few years, we are worse-off than when we started. Don’t try to be the “ultimate” Orthodox Christian. We will get there with the grace and mercy of God. Take your time!

Ministry: When it comes to ministry, starting off “bigger” is not always “better.” Quality in ministry is always better than quantity. Often we will judge a ministry based on quantity rather than quality, because we think worldly. Numbers means more popularity and notoriety, where as quality might mean less attention. It is better to start of small and grow bigger than start of big and get smaller. In other words, it is better to start off with the inferior/average wine and end up with the superior/good wine.

Career: In our jobs we often tend to think we need to show-off immediately. In some cases this might be true, but in most cases measuring your approach to how we will perform in the beginning is a good idea. In other words, figure our “terrain” and navigate through the social-political atmosphere of our company. This will make us savvier and less ignorant.