Friday, May 30, 2008

The Artist and the Gypsy Girl

Many years ago the artist Stenburg stood in his Dusseldorf studio. He had just promised to provide a painting of the crucifixion for a church building. It was to be a masterpiece,and he would be paid a big price for his work.

In the weeks that followed, Stenburg searched out all he could of the facts of the death of Jesus. He was talented; he was famous; he was becoming wealthier every year. But Stenburg did not have peace.

The first brushful of color touched the canvas, then another, and another. One day the cross stood stark and upright on Calvary's hill. Day after day Stenburg's brush caressed the canvas.

Then suddenly he was tired. "I'll forget this," he declared. "I'll walk out to the country and sketch."

It was spring and the woods were green. At the edge of the forest Stenburg stopped. There a gypsy girl plaited a straw basket. Blue-black hair reached her waist; her red dress was faded and torn. Her eyes were black, large and restless.

"What a painting!" thought Stenburg.

The girl stared up at the artist. She smiled, threw her straw down, sprang up and raised her hands high above her head, twirling and dancing gaily in front of him.

"Stand," cried Stenburg. The girl dropped her arms. "This week you must come to my studio; I'll paint you."

"But, Signor," the girl said shyly, "I'm only a poor gypsy girl."

"Come," he said. And she came, in her red dress, with her hair tucked back with a flower. Stenburg was ready. "Stand! Sit!" he commanded.

Pepita had never been in an artist's studio before. Her questions amused Stenburg. But suddenly her eyes stopped at the painting of the crucifixion. It was almost completed.

"Who is it?" She asked.

"The Christ," the artist said carelessly.

"But what are they doing to Him?"

"Crucifying Him," he answered.

"But who are those cruel people?"

Stenburg threw his brush down. "Now look here," he said. "You stand there.......
still....... and do not move your lips to speak.

Pepita closed her lips. But her eyes never left the crucifixion.

Posing for the day was over. At the door, Pepita stopped. "Was He bad?" she asked.

"No, no; very good," Stenburg said. "Remember! Be here the day after tomorrow."

Each day that she came, she asked another question. "If He was good, why did they do it?"

Stenburg tipped his head to one side. "Listen! I will tell you once for all." Hurriedly, he repeated the facts of Christ's death, and as he talked he saw her black eyes fill with tears.

One day, both paintings were finished - the one of the crucifixion and the Spanish dancing girl. For the last time Pepita came to the studio. When she saw herself on the canvas, she clapped her hands with pleasure. Then she walked over to the other painting and stood silently. She turned to Stenburg. "You must love Him very much, Signor, when He has done all that for you; do you not?" Then she was gone.

Stenburg stood looking after her; but the street noises refused to drown out the sound of Pepita's voice: "Love Him very much when He has done so much for you."

All week he heard the question: "You must love Him very much, do you not?" His restlessness, his dissatisfaction grew. He could stand no more. He tried going to church, and the vicar gave him absolution. "All will be well," he said, but when Stenburg left his heart was still tormented.

He determined to present his masterpiece to the church at a fraction of its cost. He found the vicar and told him his decision. "For what you have done," said the vicar, "God be with you." But even such a wonderful gift as this brought him no peace. Stenburg knew God was not with him. All that was with him was the question: "You must love Him very much, do you not?"

He walked night and day up and down the streets of Dusseldorf, trying to shake off his sadness of spirit, but in vain. One night he idly watched a group of people hurrying through a low doorway. It was curious, he thought, that the people who entered looked so happy.

One day Stenburg decided to go to the house. He entered and sat down with the happy people. He listened to the preacher, a man who seemed to have found what Stenburg was looking for. That night Stenburg found the answer to the restlessness in his life. No church-going, no gift was enough! Jesus Christ had died on the cross
for Stenburg; and at last the artist could say, "And how much I love Him!"

The next morning, he could not keep this joy to himself. "How can I tell others?" he asked himself. "I can paint," he said with decision.

And soon a great masterpiece was presented to the Dusseldorf gallery for every visitor to see, a sermon for all to hear.

One day he found in front of his picture a girl, weeping. She turned, and it was Pepita. "It is you, Signor," she cried out. "Oh, Signor,
if He had but loved me so!"

They both sat in front of the painting and he told her the story of that wondrous death, and the glorious resurrection. "For all men, for the gypsies, for everyone-Christ Jesus has suffered and bled on the cross. All this He did
for thee, Pepita."

The gypsy girl was quiet. Then she looked up. "I believe it," she said simply.

Two years later Pepita died, trusting in Jesus. Her last words were, "All this I did for thee."

"The Son of God, who loved me,
and gave Himself for me."

Galatians 2:20

The artist grew older. Eventually, he must put his brush aside. Dusseldorf lost its artist, but the painting still hung for all to see.

Years later, a young German nobleman wandered into the gallery and stopped in front of the Stenburg masterpiece. He read the words on the frame. "All this I did for thee. What hast thou done for Me?"

Hours passed. That night the young count made a decision. That Nobleman was Zinzendorf. In Dusseldorf he decided to give his life to answering the question under the Stenburg painting.

The gallery burned years ago, and with it the famous canvas. But the question for everyone - for you, dear reader, for me - remains the same. "All this I did for thee. What has thou done for Me?"

"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
1 Timothy 1:15

"The blood of Jesus Christ... cleanseth us from all sin."
1 John 1:9

(BTP #1085)

1 comment:

  1. That's a sweet story. Too bad they burned the painting...I would love to see it! Makes us think how much we love Jesus for what He has done...or sometimes how casual we are about it.