Almost two decades ago now I spotted this book Praying the Movies by Edward McNulty on a bookshelf at Lee Abbey conference centre in Devon. I was living and working there at the time, and was not happy. I felt my life was crumbling. One of the reasons I noticed this book was that it featured a still from the movie Empire of the Sun on the cover. Back then it was my favourite film. In his book McNulty wrote about scenes from various films and related them to life and faith. I was grabbed by it. A few months later a friend suggested I start doing sessions for our guests, where I did something similar. I found that drawing on scenes from films helped me to be honest about life’s struggles and integrating them into following Jesus as a flawed, fragile maverick. It was a kind of revolution for me.
I realise now that Jesus did this kind of thing all the time. Taking stories from his culture and using them as ways of talking of the kingdom. Lost coins, mugged travellers, farmers sowing seeds, shepherds with sheep and goats, leaking wineskins, unruly tenants, hired workers and torn clothes. All these things became bridges into the new way of life he was offering. Ordinary things. Everyday things. And sometimes tales from his history too. Nabal and David (in 1 Samuel 25) became an account of a rich fool, Abraham haggling with God (in Genesis 18 v 16-33) became a poor widow bending the ear of a judge, the wise woman throwing her party in Proverbs 9 became a king throwing a feast. Jesus wasn’t afraid to take a well-known story and give it a whole new spin. What we might call a remake in movie terms.
All of which make sense really, when you consider that this God breaking into our ordinary lives, coming right up close to us, using the things we know well, the things we live each day, to help us draw close to him. God with us in each moment of each day. Beside us, never abandoning us, in all we go through.
I recently saw the much awarded Parasite. A tale of two families, one rich, one poor. One privileged, the other doing its best to grab a share of that wealth and privilege. It’s a riveting, startling tale of cunning forced entry. In this short clip Ki Woo, who already has a job with the wealthy Park family teaching their daughter, pretends his sister is a friend who is a qualified art tutor who could teach the Park’s son. We see her rehearsing her fake identity on the doorstep.
Money dominates so much of life. Activist Shane Claiborne wrote that we are all addicted to it. Which is true really. We can’t live without it, not in this kind of world. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t condemn money, he understood how much it filled our thinking. One one occasion he told a tale of a shrewd manager, in Luke 16, using money to bless others. The manager had been fired after rumours of misconduct. So he blessed all those who owed his ex-boss money but slashing their bills, and that blessed his ex-boss, as word would travel round that community that the boss was a generous, debt-forgiving man. It’s the money that is the star of this twisty tale. And Jesus winds up by encouraging his hearers to use ‘unrighteous mammon’ (dosh) to benefit others, and in so doing we will be storing up other kinds of riches – un-rustable, non-stealable, treasures in heaven.