When I watch a movie based on a favorite book, I'm always curious to see if I'll agree with the casting and directorial choices, the actors' portrayals of characters I feel like I know, and the emotional tone of key scenes. There's usually more than one way to read a scene or even a line of dialog, and the best writers leave at least a little bit to the interpretation of the reader. Maybe they tell you what the character said but make you figure out how she meant it. Context narrows the scope, but doesn't necessarily define it.
A lot of scenes in scripture strike me this way, too. (No big surprise that God would be a great writer.) We read what Jesus said and did, but we aren't told if He was smiling or yelling or rolling His eyes, and our imaginations automatically fill in the blanks. We may not even realize to what extent we've done this until we see a movie based on the Bible, and we strongly disagree with the way the story and characters are interpreted on the screen. At such times cynicism or paranoia may rise to the surface. We write negative reviews or complain to like-minded friends, bemoaning the fact that a commercially driven industry is giving the general public a false view of our faith and our Savior.
But what if the opposite happens? What if a movie actually deepens our understanding and teaches us something about God and our relationship with Him?
There have been several high-quality productions in recent years that present realistic onscreen versions of the biblical narrative. One of these is The Gospel of John, released in 2003. To tell you the truth, I've never watched the entire movie, but Jacob has the DVD and loves it, so I've seen or overheard portions of it numerous times. Last week he watched it again, and one small detail -- one of those blanks the director had to use his imagination to fill -- made a profound impression on me.
The scene was the wedding at Cana, when Jesus performed His first public miracle by turning water into wine. I'd always been aware that most of the people at the wedding never knew the real source of the good wine, but the movie adds another layer to the dynamic. When the master of the feast tastes the water-turned-wine and praises it to the bridegroom as the best served all evening, he does so loud enough for the guests to hear, and they respond with applause. Whether that actually happened we don't know, but what we can surmise from scripture is that the bridegroom made no effort to deflect the praise he received. He could have summoned the servants to ask where they got the wine, but he didn't. He let the master of the feast (and anyone else who heard what he said) believe he'd provided the wine for his guests.
As the onscreen guests applauded the wrong person, my thoughts turned instrospective. How many times have I accepted praise that wasn't mine to take? How many times have I let people believe something great about me when I knew that their admiration was inflated or perhaps even misdirected? How many times have I been that bridegroom, basking in the applause of mere men, never stopping to consider what the God of the universe might have done behind the scenes? How many times have I missed the opportunity to celebrate the goodness and nearness of Jesus because I failed to humble myself and direct the glory to Him?
The guests left that evening falsely impressed with a groom who was so self absorbed on his big day, he never even realized God was in the room. He'd tasted what must have been the best wine ever to fill a glass, and he'd made no effort to discover its source. The servants -- the nobodies -- they were the ones who encountered Jesus that night. They listened to Him, obeyed His simple command, and became part of a miracle.
Suddenly the praise of men seems awfully empty. I don't want to take credit for what God has given. I don't want to be too full of myself to recognize Him when He shows up. Let the bigwigs pat each other on the back. Let them ooh and aah over their tinsel crowns and gilded sand castles. It's all for show, and it's all a sham. The real party is happening in the servants' quarters.
Life is short. It takes a lot of effort to build a personal kingdom. We all have to decide what matters, and then we have to fight off a constant parade of distractions to keep our focus on the One Thing. I don't know about you, but I've made my decision.
I want to know what the servants knew.
Jeanne Damoff aspires to be a sacramental soul, pouring out good wine in Jesus' Name, for His glory and the sake of a thirsty world. If you want to join the fun, she hears there's plenty of room in the servants' quarters.