Jesus, a Pram and Al Capone

There’s a scene in the film The Untouchables where good cop Elliot Ness has a shootout on the stairs of a railway station. The climax of the scene comes when a mother lets go of her pram and the baby goes teetering down the steps in slow motion, whilst all around gangsters and good guys attempt to blow each others’ heads off. Looks a little like this. In fact, exactly like this:

YouTube video

It’s an effective scene because we spend a lot of the time worrying about the innocent child. But it wasn’t an original idea. Brian de Palma, the director, pinched it from a much older film. The Battleship Potemkin.

Watch this clip from about 1 minute in and once again we find ourselves worried about a child in a pram. It’s much more melodramatic, but de Palma took that idea, rebooted it and made it work for the story he wanted to tell about Elliot Ness and Al Capone. Which is exactly what Jesus did. Many of his stories were not original, they came from older tales that had been around for a while. Like the wise and foolish builders, a.k.a. The House on the Rock. The story is about two guys, one builds on sand the other on the aforementioned rock. Except that, if you read Luke’s version, in Luke’s blog chapter 6, there’s no sand. Not a grain of it. And the story is actually about having a foundation or not. And that’s because Jesus pinched it from a story that Isaiah once told. Like de Palma, Jesus took it, rebooted it and made it work for the story he wanted to tell. But both stories are about being invaded. Oddly enough.

Check out Isaiah 28 vv 14-18 and you find a story about Israel shacking up with death – and death was code for Egypt – the nation that was obsessed with tombs and all things rotting. Israel had made a pact with them because the Assyrians were on their way and they were rather good at annihilation. Israel thought that Egypt would come and protect them, but Isaiah said, ‘Forget that.’ It was like building a house on deception and lies. And when the storm came, (i.e. the Assyrian terminators) the house would collapse.

However Isaiah made a promise that in the future another building would arise, one set on a solid foundation, built with the tools of righteousness and justice. And no storm would knock it down.

Jump 700 years to Jesus and suddenly there’s a new foundation in town. By then some folks were thinking that this solid ‘foundation’ was a sacred stone in the temple, others thought it was a counsel of wise men. But Jesus tells his story of two house builders, and his story ends with the offer of the solid foundation that comes from receiving his words. There is a storm coming, he knows that, in the shape of Jewish uprisings against the Romans, and that’s the foolish way. The way of no foundation. The way of destruction. Jesus turns up with an alternative. There are a few differences in Jesus’ story. Like Brian de Palma’s retold pram scene, Jesus plays fast and loose with the original. But the main difference is this. In Isaiah’s story there is only one house, the good house is still in the future. But in Jesus’ story both houses have been built and are right there, slap bang, for the choosing.

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