The Journey to Become Real: The Tale of The Fisher King

movie poster of The Fisher King

Author’s note: It is with great sadness that I heard the news today about the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Incredible comedian and superb actor, he will be missed. When I saw the movie The Fisher King, I was more than moved; I was transported. It has remained one of my favorite movies, and Williams’ portrayal of the deeply wounded Parry remains a moving portrayal of someone the world doesn’t understand and who battles demons every day that the world cannot see. I wrote this chapter some time ago for a book I was working on. I offer it now in tribute to his wonderful character. Peace, Mr. Williams, and God’s everlasting mercy. 

Throughout the history of philosophy and religion, one question perhaps more than any other has dominated discussion and debate. What does it mean to be human? The question has elicited numerous responses, and how you live your life may very well depend on your answer to the question. Plato believed that to be human meant to be trapped by the material world, the soul locked inside a physical body; the purpose of life, then, was to free the soul from the body through knowledge and eventually through death. Aristotle, taking a much more optimistic view of humanity, believed that the soul and the body are one composition. The highest attribute that separates humans from other animals is rationality, and so to be human is to be rational. Later philosophers believe that we are nothing more than the materials that make us up and that our “souls” or our consciousness are simply a result of our DNA, with all of our actions being determined by chemical responses.

A related question might be phrased “So what?” What does it all mean to anyone? Does any of it have meaning? If I am just a mass – no matter how complicated – of chemicals and their reactions, does it matter what I do to other masses of chemicals, or what they do to me?

The Fisher King, directed by Terry Gilliam, shouts the answer “Yes!” through almost every moment of this hard-to-categorize movie.

We are introduced to Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), a New York shock jock who is at the top of his trade. He rides in limos, his apartment is rich and modern, and he signs off his show by saying, “Thank God I’m me.” At one point, we are given an extreme close-up of Jack’s mouth; he is all mouth, offering little beyond the persona he projects into the microphone.

In his apartment, we see his reflection in mirrors and glass. If we recall that in the language of Hollywood, mirrors signify identity, we are clued in to the fact that the movie is about the struggle for identity. Jack talks about how he wanted to name his biography “Jack Lucas: The Face Behind the Voice.” He thinks he knows who he is, but the underlying current suggests he doesn’t.

Jack’s rich, privileged, and ultimately meaningless life falls apart when Edwin Melnick, one of his callers, misreads Jack’s shock-jock diatribe and takes a shotgun into an upscale yuppie restaurant and opens fire, killing six people before turning the gun on himself.

Three years later, Jack is jobless and living with his girlfriend, Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), who owns Video Spot. She basically takes care of him, as he has become somewhat of a recluse, afraid of human contact. He says at one point, “I hate desperate people,” and she replies, “You hate people.”

While Jack may hate people, the one he hates the most is himself. He tells Anne, “I feel like I’m a magnet, but I attract ****.” Overcome by grief, he decides one night to kill himself. He is saved by an unlikely source, a homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who believes he is a knight called by God to perform good deeds, the greatest of which is to find the Holy Grail. More than a simple homeless man, though, Parry used to be a college professor until Edwin Melnick shot and killed his wife in the restaurant, thereby depriving Parry of not only a reason for living, but also of a reason to remain sane.

Jack’s guilt, always overwhelming and omnipresent, has seen a way out through his chance acquaintance with Parry. If he can just help Parry, if he can help him with money or help him get the girl of his dreams (every knight must have his queen), then maybe things will turn around for him as well. As surely as Parry’s quest is to find the Holy Grail, Jack’s quest becomes to find his own redemption.

As we saw with The Big Kahuna, things that happen very early in the movie can give a clue to what the movie is about. Three minutes into The Fisher King Jack is having a conversation with Edwin Melnick that will ultimately turn tragic. This lonely man, whose only contact with the world was through the radio, tells Jack that he thinks a woman may be interested in him. Jack argues with him; after all, who would be interested in this loser? Melnick assures him that this is the case. Jack replies, “And Pinocchio is a true story.”

Pinocchio is a recurring theme in The Fisher King, and it is not accidental. Chances are, what we remember best about Pinocchio, what is almost always referred to, is Pinocchio’s nose growing when he lies. We may also remember Pinocchio growing donkey’s ears, or his conversations with Jiminy Cricket in the movie version. The theme of the story, though, and what lends the recurring theme to The Fisher King is that Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy. Made of wood and controlled by string, Pinocchio believed that he would be loved when he was a real boy. And so we come to the question that opened this chapter. What does it mean to be human? What is, in the words of Pinocchio, a “real boy”?

Part of the answer comes in a conversation Jack has with the wooden puppet he is given one drunken night by a small boy who believes Jack is a bum. Jack sits and philosophizes with Pinocchio about Nietzsche, who believed that there are two kinds of people: those who are destined for greatness, like Walt Disney or Hitler, and the rest of us who are the “bungled and botched.” “We get teased and sometimes get close to greatness, but we never get there. We’re the expendable masses. We get pushed in front of trains and take poisoned aspirin, and get gunned down in front of Dairy Queens.”

Nietzsche’s use of the term “bungled and botched” was in Beyond Good and Evil, and although Jack misquotes him here (Nietzsche was referring to anti-Semites), the underlying current of power remains intact. Nietzsche believed that the bungled and botched as well as anyone weak should be annihilated. He was a man who had no tolerance for suffering, believing it to be a sign of weakness. Although he much admired Jesus, Nietzsche despised Christians and organized religion, because he believed that they encouraged people to become weak.

In response to weakness, Nietzsche put forth the idea of the ubermensch, the Super-man who represents the height of human development. In fact, he has progressed so far in human development that he is beyond the moral categories of good and evil. He asks, “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”[1] It is clear that Jack in the beginning of The Fisher King is the Super-man. He has it all in his glassed-in existence high above the grime of the streets. It’s telling that when he’s dancing around his apartment, full of satisfaction with his life, moments before he learns of the shooting at the restaurant, the song he is dancing to is “I’ve Got the Power.” If he were truly Nietzschean, however, when learning of the shooting, he wouldn’t feel guilty, much less let it destroy his life.

Nihilism of this sort, though, is difficult if not impossible to live out. As human beings, we search for meaning in suffering, for a higher purpose to our lives. If this is indeed the case, The Fisher King offers an alternative to, and perhaps an attack on, nihilism, on the will to power, and instead looks to love rather than power to make one a human being.

The Bible has a great deal to say about what it means to be human, about God’s divine grace, about the differences between love and power. Let’s take a look at these three points.

Being Human

First, what does it mean in the Bible to be human? There are a number of answers we can give to that, but throughout the Bible, which tells the story of human creation and God’s dealings with his creation, one thing is clear: human beings are fallen creatures in need of forgiveness and redemption.

Jack on some level knows that he needs forgiveness. After discussing the “bungled and botched,” and immediately before he tries to kill himself with Pinocchio strapped to his leg, Jack asks the question of Pinocchio that supports the theme of becoming (and being) human: “Do you ever get the feeling sometimes you’re being punished for your sins?” Having been the cause of a tragedy, Jack can’t forgive himself and can’t move forward. He tells Anne, “I really feel cursed. . . . I wish there was some way I could just pay the fine and go home.”

That’s a human response – we want to pay the fine ourselves and go home. We don’t want someone else to do it for us. It’s an obligation that needs to be fulfilled. And so we begin to try to live better lives, to be good people, to follow the Ten Commandments.

The problem with that is that it’s cleaning up the outside without touching the inside. We might be able to clean up our outside behavior, but our fallenness is internal, it’s in our DNA. Galatians 3 addresses this issue. These Gentiles had accepted Jesus as savior and had become Christians. Eventually, though, they were told by well-meaning people that in order to truly be God’s people, they would have to be circumcised. That was, after all, what the Law commanded, and God had given the Law to his people. They wanted that outward sign.

This is Jack’s first response to the tremendous guilt he feels about Parry. He first offers Parry money, and although $70 is a huge amount of money to a homeless person, it’s laughable to think that it could pull together the broken pieces of Parry’s life. Jack’s second attempt is to help him get the girl of his dreams, Lydia (Amanda Plummer). Jack does what many of us would do to try and transform someone; he tries to make Parry into Jack. Remember, at one time Jack had been a man of power, the ubermensch. It makes sense, then, to remake Parry as Jack. He dresses Parry in one of his old suits, even stapling up the pant legs to fit Parry’s shorter stance.

It doesn’t work, of course. The demons Parry carries in his head – disguised in this instance as the evil Red Knight – are far too powerful. The Red Knight will not be fooled by a cleaned-up outside. The Red Knight is afraid of something, however. Parry says that the Red Knight is afraid of Jack. Jack has the power to destroy the demons that haunt and pursue Parry; he just isn’t aware of it yet. When he becomes aware of it, he will realize what it means to be human.

When we focus on trying to clean the outside, we’re relying on power. The Bible, as well as The Fisher King, reminds us that it’s not power that transforms lives, but love – God’s divine grace.

God’s Divine Grace

What does God’s divine grace look like? The Fisher King refers to God’s divine grace two or three times, always in conjunction with the Holy Grail. What is the Holy Grail? According to Ann, it’s “Jesus’ juice cup.” If we expand on that succinct definition, though, we must include what that cup represented: redemption for humanity.

When Jack awakens the morning after he has tried to commit suicide, he is in Parry’s domicile, the basement of an old building. Parry introduces himself to Jack. He calls himself “the janitor of God” and tells Jack that he is a knight on a special quest and he needs help. He was chosen to get back something special that God had lost. Parry tells Jack that “the little people,” invisible and cherubic angels, have told him that Jack is “the one.” One what? The one to help him retrieve the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace.

After Jack tries to earn his own redemption through giving money to Parry, he tells him, “I gave it to you to help you.” Parry asks, “Do you really want to help me?” and he takes him to the mansion of millionaire Langdon Carmichael, where Parry is sure the Grail is located. Jack tells him there is no Holy Grail. Parry says, “Oh, Jack, ye of little faith! There has to be a Grail.” What Parry is trying to tell Jack, what the gospel story tells all of us, is that there is no redemption without the Grail.

This point is made in the middle of the movie when Parry tells Jack the story of “The Fisher King,” where a young prince is given a vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace.

“You shall be keeper of the grail so it will heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of power, glory and beauty. He felt invincible. So he reached inside the fire to get the grail, but the grail vanished, leaving his hand in the fire to be horribly wounded. His wounds grew deeper until he lost all reason; he had no faith in any man including himself. He couldn’t love or feel love. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. But he didn’t see a king, he only saw a man alone and in pain. He asked, “What ails you, friend?” and the king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some cool water to cool my throat.” So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and gave it to the king. As he drank he realized his wound was healed. He looked at his hands and there was the Holy Grail – that which he had sought all his life. He asked, “How could you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” The fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

 

In this story, Jack is like the boy/king, blinded by visions of power, seemingly invincible. What he really wants, though, is to be special, to be someone. At one point when Jack agrees to help Parry, Parry says, “You’re a real human being.” Jack replies, “I’m not. I’m scum.” Later in the film, he tells Parry, “No matter what I have, it feels like I have nothing . . . There’s nothing special about me.” His whole life, as horribly wounded as the king’s hand, has been searching for meaning, for someone to say that he is valuable. He only wants power, not realizing that what he has right in front of him is the thing that will heal him. Parry, of course, is the fool. Parry, who doesn’t see the lifelong quest but certainly sees the thirst that drives it, gives Jack what he longed for: specialness. The fool in the story offers service to the king, thereby showing his greatness, for he is greater even than all the brightest and bravest of the kingdom. In like manner, Jesus, the King of Fools, showed his greatness to us through service. He did it through identifying with human beings by becoming one of us, and by substituting himself for us. Jack will only be able to fully heal his wound when he lays down his life for someone else.

Love and Power

As I noted earlier, some transformations take place only on the outside (the same point was made in the movie Chocolat). Jack dresses Parry in his clothes in preparation of his “date” with Lydia. Anne paints Lydia’s fingernails, her own outward transformation from a shy, plain girl to someone more desirable. In a humorous sequence, Lydia is looking through videos at the video store. In her clumsiness, she knocks over an entire display. She puts one back on the shelf; it’s the movie Roxanne, the Steve Martin comedy about Cyrano de Bergerac. Once again, the filmmakers have taken pains to remind us of long noses, human ugliness, and the longing for transformation.

Before the issue of transformation can be complete, however, one must wrestle with identity. One cannot transform without the mirror of reality first being faced. Parry learns this after his date and first kiss with Lydia. As she shuts the beveled glass door, he gets a glimpse of himself, dressed in Jack’s suit, his hair combed as much as possible. The bevel distorts the picture, divides him, and for a moment he sees glimpses of his former life. This summons the Red Knight, the psychological manifestation Parry uses to keep reality at bay. He begs, “Please let me have this.” What he’s asking for, though, is an impossibility. We cannot have both reality and fantasy. In order to have the reality of love with Lydia, he must also embrace the reality of tragedy. As the Red Knight pursues him, so do his memories, until at last he remembers it all. Just as Jack had been overcome by grief and sought to kill himself, so now does Parry, even in the same spot. When the teenagers who had beat Jack come for Parry, he welcomes it. He doesn’t desire transformation; he longs instead for the blissful peace of oblivion. His retreat from reality places him back in the mental institution in his self-induced coma.

This would truly be a tragedy if left in its Nietzschean form. Anne, however, has named the panacea, the anti-Nietzschean remedy for both Parry and Jack. Anne states, “Love conquers all.” While referring specifically to Lydia and Parry, Anne has unwittingly hit upon the one thing that can heal these two tragic figures, the king and the fool.

In order to heal Parry, to awaken him from his coma, Jack tells him that he will get the Grail. He tells the unconscious Parry, “If I do this, it’s not because I feel cursed or responsible or guilty. I do this because I want to do this for you. For you.” Even though he has everything again, he has power if he wants it, it’s empty without Parry. Power, Nietzsche’s Super-man, would have left Parry to die, but Jack has finally learned that love is the only thing capable of healing.

He dresses in Parry’s clothes and experiences identification with Parry when he hears horses (“Parry would be so pleased”). A window in Langdon Carmichael’s mansion has a stained glass Red Knight, a signal perhaps that the demons aren’t gone. Jack’s substitution, his very identity, is complete when he sees a hallucination of Edwin Melnick, his own personal Red Knight.

After taking the cup, Jack sees that Langdon Carmichael has taken an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. He trips the alarm to summon the police, thereby saving Carmichael’s life. In doing the opposite of Edwin Melnick, doing in fact the opposite of what Nietzsche would do, Jack finally lays to rest his demons.

Jack’s healing and the love that prompted it become the vessel for Parry’s healing. Parry awakens from the coma with his hands around the Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace. When he says to Jack, “Can I miss her now?” his transformation is underway. He has embraced reality with all its wonder and its pain.

Conclusion

As was stated earlier, Nietzsche despised weakness. His philosophy leaves no room for the homeless and mentally ill who permeate The Fisher King. The Super-man will not identify with those who suffer in order to relieve their suffering. For the nihilist, the parable of the Fisher King, as told by Parry, is inconceivable, a meaningless story.

We as humans, though, search for meaning. We seek to transform our suffering into something better, something stronger, just as coal is tortured into being diamond. Through recognizing their fallible humanness, through identification with another, through suffering, through laying down their lives for someone else, through an acceptance of God’s divine grace, Jack and Parry are both transformed.

The Fisher King ends in Central Park. Both men are naked as they try to “cloud bust.” Jack has become a little crazier like Parry, and Parry has become a little saner like Jack. And both have become, in the words of Pinocchio who lies on the ground between them, “a real boy.”

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, section 2.

Home

10534433_805460239487698_3486483049073214227_n-2I visited our storage unit today. It’s been two years since we had to toss most of our collected stuff, pack up the few things we couldn’t part with and put them in storage.

I say “few things,” and yet I was amazed at how much stuff there was in that small unit. Boxes of books mostly. But not what I was looking for. Steve’s and my anniversary is tomorrow, August 10. Our 40th. I wanted to find a wedding picture to post on Facebook. I wanted to say, “Look at how young we were,” “Look at his long hair,” “Look how pretty I was,” “Look at how far we’ve come.”

I couldn’t find any pictures of the wedding. Not one. Not of our dating days, our rehearsal dinner, our wedding, our honeymoon, our daughter’s first years. I left the storage unit feeling strangely displaced. I am homeless.

I’m not homeless in the way the man on the street corner asking for change is, and believe me, I am grateful for that. I am emotionally homeless. I have lived in apartments, one or two of them very nice luxury apartments, for more than 20 years. There are many pros to apartment living–or cave-dwelling as a friend of mine calls it. For one, if anything breaks, I’m not responsible for fixing it. I have no yard work, no sidewalks to shovel in the winter. There are massive downsides, however, and perhaps the biggest one is why Steve, Joshua and I had to evacuate our apartment two years ago and place a good portion of our lives in either the dumpster or storage.

I saw a Purina advertisement today for adopting cats. The text on the Facebook post said, “No one likes waiting to get home.” As you can see, the cat’s expression is one of longing and sadness. At least that’s how I interpret it. And I wanted this cat so bad it made me cry. Not just any rescue cat. THIS cat. No one likes waiting to get home.

I wanted to give this cat a home. I wanted to give her love. I wanted her to belong. Home. No one likes waiting to get home.

I’ve waited for more than 20 years. I want home. I want to belong.

Even the word “home” tugs at something inside me, something visceral and primitive as though home is one of a human being’s most basic instincts and needs. Home.

No one likes waiting to get home.

Please, God, shine a light in the window for me. Help me find home.

Lessons From the Bike

ImageI’m not crazy about hills. My legs get weary, my lungs burn, and I feel that the air I’m taking in isn’t enough. My pace gets slower, and if the hill is big enough, I almost think I could outpace myself by walking. I refuse, however, to let the hills beat me.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live somewhere where the roads and trails are always flat. I think it would probably be wonderful. At least for a little while. But eventually, I would get tired of always knowing what lays ahead. There is something charming and eventful in the surprises of what lays over the crest of a hill or just around the bend.

There is also the reward of coming downhill after the trek up. Did I say “coming downhill”? I meant screaming downhill. It’s exhilarating to race down a hill, your heart thumping wildly as you command yourself “Do not brake!” Wind tangles my hair and cools my sweat-drenched face, and I reach the bottom with a strong urge to shout “YEAH! Let’s do it again!”

The exhilaration comes from the previous effort.

Some will be happy with straight trails and serene, uneventful vistas. I wish them good travels. But for me–whether in my talents, my career, my faith, my ambitions, my dreams, my passions, and yes my bike rides–I want to scream downhill.

And so I climb.

Lessons From the Bike

ImageIt’s been a long winter. I didn’t get a chance to ride as much as I wanted to. (Unlike some of my friends, I’m a wimp when it comes to snow and ice.) But on my ride today, I started noticing flowers. Tulips surrounded the base of several mailboxes and dandelions dotted the park. The smell of blossoms on the trees intoxicated my senses and made me absolutely giddy to be on my bike. No matter how long the winter, it always gives way to spring.

And while it is true that winter gives way to spring, it is also true that spring, summer and fall will eventually give way to another winter. But I can’t think about that now, not in the midst of spring, not with flowers dotting the grass and trees casting their blossoms in front of me. If I think about that now, it robs today of its joy. During spring, it is time to live in the present and focus on the glorious feel of my legs as they push the peddles, the wind in my hair as I scream down a hill, the tiredness that feels so good when I get off the bike. Live in the present. I can live in the future when it is winter when it might be best to not focus on the present and instead know that no matter how cold it is, spring will eventually come.

It’s a matter of balance, this living in the present and looking toward the future.

In the past month, I’ve had some things happen that have left a winter coldness in my heart. I’ve been depressed, angry at God, lashing out at friends to try to assuage the pain, punching out at life as though I could knock it out. I’ve raged at friends but maintained a chilly silence with God. And yet, winter gives way to spring.

Albert Camus in The Stranger said, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”

Here I am in this present moment. I am pushing back.

Good thing I rode my bike hard today. Snow is coming tomorrow.

Easter Devotion

ImageThere is a saying I’ve seen a few times on Facebook: “If life doesn’t break you today, don’t worry. It will try again tomorrow.” And in the end, it seems, brokenness wins. Like a contagious disease, it has visited all of us. Like a thief, it robs us of peace, of joy, of life. For some of us, it has visited very recently, and we turn our tear-stained faces to heaven and hold our empty hands to God and ask why.

Jesus has been dead for three days. The “problem,” according to the religious leaders, has been taken care of. Jesus has been dead for three days. It was expedient for them for Jesus to die. It was necessary. In fact, it was necessary for US as well for Jesus to die. And Jesus has been dead for three days.

Brokenness. We talk about brokenness and what that means, of what we can expect from brokenness, of what beautiful stories, strong faith and dependence on God may come through the anguish of brokenness. And we have found that we are not alone. Our Lord was broken.

Like all of us, Jesus suffered and endured brokenness. Isaiah tells us in a prophecy about Jesus that he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, that he was smitten and afflicted, pierced and crushed. He endured what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. Have you felt like that? Have you felt plunged into a darkness that will never end? Do you long to cry out, but your mouth is filled with sand?

Jesus has been dead for three days.

And so we join Mary on an early morning journey to the tomb. We know what it feels like to walk that road with Mary. Her heartbreak is universal. The reality of brokenness, despair, and grief are as near as the loss of loved ones, the heartache of children with disabilities, the failure of our marriages, the sinking feeling of never quite measuring up to our own expectations, and the deep grief of death. Mary’s sorrowful walk that Sunday morning is our walk on many a morning.

But whatever else is to be said, it is clear that the grave is not the end, that the tomb does not have the final say.

A shaft of light breaks through the darkness. Mary struggles to believe, not knowing what to make of the empty tomb, of a message that brings hope to her aching heart, of her Most Loved One calling her name. Mary!

We are so like her that at times it is painful. We believe, and yet we are overwhelmed with grief and loss. We believe, and yet we mourn at how awful the world is and how pointless some things seem. We believe … and yet we are not sure.

Our path of faith is similar to Mary’s as well. At the tombs of our life the risen Lord calls our names. Lift your head when brokenness, despair, and deep grief settle in and defeat seems sure. Look for the victory of Christ. It is at hand. You are His, you are engraved on the palm of His nail-scarred hand, and He will never let you go.

Death is defeated. Brokenness is defeated. Oh, to be sure, they are real. But they are not the end. The story is not finished. Through the victory of Christ who was broken FOR US, we are not alone.

On Friday, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and the temple curtain that separated sinful man from his holy God was torn in two.

On Sunday, the stone at the tomb was rolled away and He calls our names. It is the beginning.

Between Celebrations

crown of thornsWe just finished Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday, we celebrate Easter, commemorating of course Jesus’ resurrection. But between the two celebrations are days of incredible pain, heavy sorrow, nerve-wracking fear and almost unbearable grief.

They huddle in a dark room, this small band of brothers who have lost their beloved leader, teacher, Master and friend. They don’t dare light candles to chase away the shadows, and they start in fear at every footfall outside. Have they been discovered? Are the soldiers coming for them? Tension fills the air and sometimes breaks out in whispered accusations. Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you say something? Gazes drop in shame. Why didn’t I say something? Why did I run away?

Where is Judas? They have heard rumors that he killed himself. Good! some of them think. I’m glad he’s dead, that thieving, scheming betrayer. And yet he is missed. He had been one of them. He had been a brother. And yet because of his actions, their friend is dead, their friend who taught them to call Jehovah Daddy, who had multiplied the loaves and fishes, who had healed limbs and calmed the storm.

One of them remembers the taunts at the cross. “He saved others but he can’t save himself!” and he tries hard to push the hate-filled voice out of his head and yet like the serpent in the garden, it slithers into his soul and lodges there. “He saved others but he can’t save himself!” The words are joined by another mournful wail, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He knows he is the only one here who heard that cry, and yet he can’t tell anyone that. So in this roomful of brothers, he sits and mourns and feels more alone than he has ever felt in his life.

Where is hope? Where. Is. Hope. To him, to the other 10 in the room, it seems that hope died when Jesus did.

Shadows deepen. Life is dark. Even today, we huddle together and face the dark. “In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but take heart,” He said. “I have overcome the world.” But at times, those seem like hollow words. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” But at times, we feel alone and and we feel forsaken. We fumble in the dark for a hand to hold, to somehow believe that we are not alone, that our grief will be comforted, that our tears will be wiped away. And so we gather up the tatters of our faith again like an old woman gathers up yarn to knit a blanket.

We live in the shadow of hope, we dwell in the shadow of the cross. Today, it’s Friday. It’s filled with pain, with overwhelming grief, with fearful doubt and crushing sorrow.

Today, it’s Friday. But Sunday is on the way.

An Enemy

Jesus in the Garden, from The Passion of the ChristThink of the miracles of Jesus. What is the first miracle that comes to your mind? Put yourself in that miracle. Picture yourself as the one witnessing that miracle. Jesus walking on the water. Turning water into wine. Calming a storm. Healing the man born blind. Raising Lazarus. Picture yourself as the one receiving the miracle. Eating the bread that Jesus multiplied. Having your disease healed. Sailing on a sea that is suddenly calm.

There are 37 miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, all but one of them occurring before the crucifixion. 37 miracles. In the miracles of healing, Jesus was almost always responding to someone asking for healing. The Centurion asked Jesus to heal his daughter. Peter asked Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. A mother asked Jesus to cast demons out of her son.

But there is one miracle that doesn’t generally come to our minds. It is the last miracle Jesus performed before the crucifixion. Put yourself in this miracle.

You are the servant of a well-respected religious leader, the high priest. You have grown up knowing the laws, following them, respecting and obeying those who teach the laws. But lately you have been hearing about a rebellion beginning. It surrounds a man named Jesus from Nazareth. The leaders you have always respected, served and obeyed fear him. And hate him. This man, this Jesus is an enemy to all you hold dear and everything you have known. He breaks laws, including the most sacred Sabbath laws, and he encourages others to do the same.

And now the high priest and other religious leaders have found a way to trap this man, this Jesus. You are one of the first to volunteer to go with the authorities and have him arrested. As you march through the streets, you feel the righteousness in you build. You are doing right; you are not only the servant of the high priest, but the servant of God.

It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that you find him and a few of his upstart followers. Vaguely you are aware of the betrayer greeting Jesus, and you nominally hear Jesus say, “Must you betray me with a kiss?” This fades into the background for you, because you are focused on the small band of men and the confusion and the shouts and the anger and the fear and the fact that one of them has drawn a sword and a sudden blaze of speed and you hear the air whooshing by your ear before you hear nothing at all and the agony streams from the right side of your head and the shrieks you hear seem to come from far away but it is you who is screaming as your own sword drops and you clap your hand to where your ear had been and it comes away sticky with the wetness of the blood that looks black in the dark and once-peaceful garden.

“Put your sword away!” Jesus’ command to his disciple comes buzzing through the blur of pain and blood. And Jesus reaches out and touches your ear. The bleeding stops as bone grows and skin stretches over cartilage. Pain, which had been so mind-numbingly intense and real, is now only a memory, already fading. You are healed. But you are his enemy! You as much as your master want him dead. And yet, he touched you. He healed YOU, his enemy. Words that this man, this Jesus had said come back to your mind: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” and “Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”

This man, this Jesus, is practicing what he has so often said. He is forgiving his enemies. He is forgiving YOU.

This was the last miracle of Jesus before He was crucified and hung on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of OUR sins. His last miracle was a miracle of not only healing but of love, of forgiveness, of reaching out to love and forgive an enemy. We place ourselves in that enemy’s place, knowing that all of us do in fact stand in the place of the man whose ear Jesus healed, for we have been enemies of God, and we have been forgiven. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”