Fellow Passengers: Today’s Pastoral Passage* (I John 1:7-10) transports me to the wild west town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, where English Bob, the Schofield Kid, and retired outlaws William Munny and Ned Logan converge to try and collect a bounty, much to the chagrin of town sheriff Little Bill Daggett. The bounty of $1,000 is being offered by Strawberry Alice and her fellow town prostitutes, who are seeking revenge on the lowdown man who disfigured one of their own, Delilah Fitzgerald. Despite its title, Unforgiven, I found that the film had a lot to say about the themes of forgiveness and redemption. There are merciful shafts of light shining into the dark corners where most of the movie’s action takes place.
I have long believed that Jesus sneaks into a lot of movies. Now I know there are more and more movies where Jesus comes in the front door, and it’s all well and good that evangelicals are bringing the direct message of salvation into films like Fireproof. As more people of faith get into the game, the quality is bound to improve, just like it has in the world of Christian pop music. But I’m not talking here about Jesus hanging out on the set with Kirk Cameron; I’m talking about Jesus finding his way into the characters of your mainstream Hollywood movies, like the ones Donald Wildmon and James Dobson rant and rave about and want to protect us from. If you’re willing to take a look, I think you might catch Jesus playing supporting roles in the R-rated movies filled with violence and vulgarity and sex. We shouldn’t be surprised to find Jesus there, because he got into trouble hanging around with a pretty coarse crowd during his recorded life on earth. Now it’s true He has to go incognito in most of these movies – the Hollywood marketers haven’t yet been convinced that Jesus can sell popcorn and Goobers and movie tickets. But Jesus is crafty, and I find Him angling his way onto the set of a lot of Billy Bob Thornton movies and Robert Duvall movies and the Coen brothers movies. And Clint Eastwood movies, especially ones like Unforgiven. It’s a dark, disturbing western, filled with violence and vulgarity. And, at least in my mind, it’s got the light of Jesus shining into the dark corners. There are some beautiful scenes of redemption in the midst of this revenge-filled plot centered on the life of a scarred prostitute and a scarred gunman. A recurring line is I ain’t like that no more. I kept wondering how Eastwood chose the title of the movie; it could just as easily been titled Forgiven.
And then, in reflecting on I John’s promise of full pardon for coarse sinners who don’t want to be like that no more, where the simple confession of our sinful humanity allows the blood of Jesus to purify us from all unrighteousness, I realized that the only human being to have ever been truly unforgiven is Jesus Christ himself. He was unforgiven for most of His life because he didn’t have anything to be forgiven for. And then in the last moments of his life, when he not only bore our sins but scripture tells us became every violent and vulgar sin known to creation, He knew that his path was to be God-forsaken, rather than God-forgiven. Jesus bled the life out of sin, and through that flowing fountain made sure that everyone, including every lowdown drunk and thief and whore and cowardly killer, and also including every Goober-munching middle-class movie-goer with flawed and failed attempts at getting life right, everyone could be cleansed, washed purer than the driven snow. I guess it would have been a bit much, and after all it would have blown Jesus’ cover, but I kept hoping for some good old Baptist background music at the end of the movie. I’m not sure what theme music they actually had going, but in my mind another soundtrack was playing: There is a fountain, filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all there guilty stains. Ever since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be til I die. See you at the movies.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Forgiveness.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.