A Selfish Bronze?

 77.AB.30

In 1961, a fishing trawler in the Adriatic Sea lifted its nets to discover an encrusted chunk of bronze that proved to be one of the great finds of Greek sculpture. After removing the deposits of the sea over the past 2000 years, there was an athletic male youth, one of the few Greek bronze sculptures to have survived. He is fully intact, except for his feet, and shows a level of refinement and skill such that it has been attributed to Lysippus, court sculpture of Alexander the Great. The youth stands with his weight on one foot, his right arm lifted as his hand reaches to the olive wreath encircling his head, which he has just won at the Olympic games. Originally, his eyes were bone or ivory with glass irises for color. His lips were covered in a thin layer of copper to make them more lifelike.

The entire sense is that of a stop-motion photograph, and the most intriguing sight is his right hand about to touch the wreath he has just won. It was not uncommon for the winner of these games to crown himself. Has he just done so, and now awaits the glory and acclamation of the crowd? Has he done so in vanity and pride? Or in simple recognition that he is, as a matter of fact, the winner?

But the winners of these games would often take their olive wreath and place it at an altar and devote it to the gods of Greece, in acknowledgment of gods’ role in sustaining the lives of all the people. So, perhaps, instead of his hand reaching for wreath as an act of self-congratulation and insufferable vanity, he is recognizing that the ultimate honor belongs to the gods.

Its fairly obvious how this might link to a Christian and God. When we have a great success, do we “crown ourselves” — pathetically cry out “Did you see me?” on social media, angle for recognition in our conversations, offer a lame humble-brag, or overtly boast of our achievements (sometimes even of our Christian works)?

Or, rather, do we humbly acknowledge that everything we have and everything we do and everything we are is dependent on God. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we have nothing except what we have been given. Our achievements are not really ours; our successes are not really ours. Paul writes simply yet profoundly, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Maybe this remarkable bronze youth, after resting two millennia in the sea, is reminding us of a greater love than the love of victory — our love of our Savior.

And John the Beloved, wrote not long after this bronze was cast, “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who loves forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ ” (Revelation 4:9-10)