A Masterpiece

In his short story, “The Last Leaf,” O. Henry tells of two young artists, Sue & Joanna (nicknamed “Johnsy”) living upstairs from an elderly artist, Behrman, who always planned, yet never quite gets to, the creation of a great masterpiece.

It is late fall and Johnsy, deathly ill with pneumonia, convinces herself that when all the leaves have fallen from the vine outside her bedroom window, she too will die.  Sue tries to get her to stop thinking pessimistically, and Behrman, with a protective interest in the roommates, also visits to encourage Johnsy and sees the vine clinging to the opposite wall with just one leaf remaining.

That night, a violent storm comes through, and Sue closes the curtains despite Johnsy’s protests because she wants to prevent her friend seeing that last leaf fall as long as possible.  Yet in the morning, Johnsy looks out and, to both their surprise, that single leaf remains.

The leaf does not fall that day nor the next day nor the next, and eventually Johnsy comes to believe the leaf was revealing that she was sinful in simply wanting to die, and so she begins to struggle against her illness and ultimately to recover.  But then when Johnsy is strong enough, Sue tells her that their neighbor Behrman has died of pneumonia.  He caught it when he went out on the stormy night to paint on the wall that one remaining leaf—his masterpiece, created for Johnsy’s sake that she might live.

Our Savior’s masterpiece is the life he gave for us on the cross, the life that clings to hope in the face of all despair, the life that lives in us through his death and resurrection.  May that resurrection life be Christ’s masterpiece in each of us.

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