Around the time that John Huss was beginning to be influenced by the writings of Wycliffe two young men from England swept through Prague. James and Conrad of Canterbury were young theology students who had spent time at Oxford under the mentorship of John Wycliffe.
Wycliffe’s teachings had revolutionized their thinking and they, in turn, were eager to revolutionize the thinking of any sentient human being within arm’s length of themselves. They came to Prague with one thing in mind: spreading the gospel and throwing down the authority of the Pope, all in a single blow.
It was an ambitious plan and something they undertook with a dramatic flair. Entering the city they immediately made their way into the city center, planted themselves in the most conspicuous corner and like the apostle Paul in Athens, began to invite open debate on the topics of the gospel and the authority of the Pope.
Prague was not ready for this kind of radicalism. The entire city was firmly Catholic in outlook and extremely loyal to the Pope. James and Conrad’s antics soon drew the attention of the authorities and they were arrested and put in prison for a short period of time. The city council hoped that this would shut them up or at the very least compel them to pack up their bags and take their ranting elsewhere. It didn’t do either of those things.
As soon as they were released the two young men went back into the city but this time in search of art supplies. Once they had found two canvasses and an assortment of oil paints they set up their easels in the very center of the city and began to paint.
As the paintings began to take shape people would stop to take a look and try to figure out what they were drawing. They began to attract bigger crowds with their paintings than they had with their debating.
When the paintings were finished they stood silently, side by side in the heart of Prague. One was a picture of Jesus, humble, poorly dressed and sitting on a donkey while the other picture was of the Pope, decked out in all his bejeweled finery and surrounded by a retinue of equally flashy cardinals.
This time their message got across loud and clear. The citizens of Prague were struck by the contrast between the founder of the church and its current leader. In fact, their paintings caused more of a stir than their disputing had and this time they thought it wise to beat a hasty retreat. They left Prague but their work made a deep and lasting impression on the minds of the people. Most importantly it left a deep impression on the mind of John Huss.
Why talk about James and Conrad and their paintings at Christmas time? Because their story has a poignant Christmas lesson. If James and Conrad were to sweep into your life today, armed with canvases, easels, paints, and brushes what kind of pictures would they draw? If they were to draw a picture of Jesus lying in a manger,
surrounded by animals and the stench of a small stable in an obscure Judean village what kind of an impression would that leave in your mind? Would you think of words like humility, sacrifice, selflessness, service, and love? I would.
Now, what if they were to draw a picture of your life on the second easel. What kind of picture would you and I see? I’m not talking about the airbrushed, photoshopped, over filtered pictures we glibly publish on social media, but a raw, unedited, unorchestrated candid portrait of yourself in real time. What would that look like? What kind of words would you or anyone else looking at that picture think of?
Would they be the same words that would come to your mind when you look at the picture of Jesus? You don’t have to be lying in a manger surrounded by animals to say humility, sacrifice, and love. There are many other images that can communicate those words. The question is, this Christmas, if you were to place a picture of your life right now besides a picture of Jesus’ first moments of life on this earth would those pictures both communicate the same message? My prayer for myself and you is that they do.