I am a student of film. My mom and older sister had their favorite movies and whenever they were aired on television, the entire family would watch them together. My mom would point out subtle plot lines or camera shots that enhanced the story that was unfolding on the screen. My sister would usually talk about other films by the same actor, and how they grew or didn’t grow during their careers.
There are some movies that are so well done that a remake is not possible. Examples from the early era of films include Citizen Kane, San Francisco, and All About Eve. Some films have been retold for new generations because the plot is adaptable. The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Ole’ Summertime and You’ve Got Mail recount the same story of star-crossed lovers.
In the mid to late 50s, the golden era of MGM musicals was replaced by epic movies filmed in Cinemascope and Panavision. Wide screen, location films that told or retold stories in real places and not on studio sets. Bridge on the River Kwai, The Ten Commandments, and Giant were among them. One of my favorites was and is Ben-Hur (1959). Directed by William Wyler, this was the second version of General Lew Wallace’s novel titled: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
The story is basically about two men who grew up as friends, but due to the pressures of being part of the Roman Empire become enemies. We watch as hate dominates their lives and culminates during a chariot race. Jesus only appears a few times in the film; at his birth, when he gives Ben-Hur water, after Ben-Hur learns his mother and sister are lepers and as he is being crucified. In his last appearance, Jesus shares these words: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” With these words, Ben-Hur is transformed, and the hate that ruled his life for so long is gone. He is able to forgive his Roman friend, the nation of Rome and even himself for where his life was headed.
Even though Jesus is physically present in the film for less than 5 minutes, the Spirit of our Savior is apparent as we watch how Ben-Hur learns who he is and how Jesus saved him twice. I have watched this movie more times than I can count, because I never tire of the way Jesus was there for Ben-Hur even if Ben-Hur didn’t realize who Jesus was.
For me, the Bible is the same. I never tire of reading and re-reading this wonderful, Holy book. Each time I read it, I discover something new, see familiar names and families in new ways. Through sermons, pastors and laity have the joy of sharing what they have discovered from a first, second or other reading.
This is our story. May we continue to share it, chapter and verse, so that others may know that our Lord is still here, shaping who we are and moving us to transform others. Like Ben-Hur, we may only see Him from a distance, and not realize at the time who is watching over us or journeying with us. We also might talk about our own epiphany, when we recognize how God touched our very lives and souls, transforming us to become more and more like the one who redeemed us. And Amen.