An advertisement for a trip to Hawaii in 2022

By John Pierce

There was so much public response to the movie, The Help, that I wrote no comments of my own at the time of the release. But one thought related to the novel-turned-film keeps moving around in my mind.

It has to do with the designations of villains and heroes. The mostly white, middle-class audience with whom I viewed the movie cheered for the black domestic workers who risked much to reveal their inhumane treatment at the hands of prominent citizens. The co-hero was a young, white woman who refused to accept the realities of racial discrimination in which she was deeply embedded.

On the other hand, the moviegoers bristled at characters who so readily accepted their designation as being superior human beings by virtue of European blood and wealth earned through injustice. You know, the good citizens and good church people of that era.

That’s right. The perspective on heroes and villains had shifted over the decades.

“Hilly Holbrook” and the Junior Leaguers represented the honored members of their time and culture: people with money, power and political influence. Their family names were inscribed on libraries, roadways and the stained-glass windows of churches.

Anyone who dared to challenge the social structures in which such injustice flourished — an idealistic budding journalist or an uppity maid — would not have heard cheers and applause from popcorn-smeared, white hands decades ago. Only further mistreatment in an effort to protect a system that favors some at the expense of others could be expected.

Jesus addressed this insider-outside, hero-villain dynamic in a parable that most modern American Christians prefer to ignore, downplay or misinterpret to avoid its harshly direct sting. It is the Parable of the Great Banquet found in Luke 14.

In Jesus’ story, a man who is secure in his own sense of success and faithfulness imagines the seat of honor he will hold at “the feast of the Kingdom of God.” But Jesus describes a setting in which the invitation list is turned upside down.

It seems that thinking you have earned God’s favor more than others is a pretty clear way to miss it. What impresses us about others and ourselves doesn’t seem to impress God very much.

When it comes to designating insiders and outsiders, the essence of Jesus’ message seems to be: “Boy, are you going to be surprised!”

Apparently, God’s winners rarely resemble ours.

 

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