Stories of Old

Stories, especially the great stories, often fall short when adapted for film. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings is no exception. Vast sections of the story (Tom Bombadil!!!) are left out completely.

But there is one scene depicted in the film that exceeded where my imagination could go when reading the book. The Fellowship has left Lothlorien, and as they float down the great river they come to Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings. Upon great pedestals the kings of old stand, wrought out of stone, soaring hundreds of feet above the water, their left hands stretched out in warning. Watching the scene unfold, you can well understand the awe and fear that fell upon the company as their boats whirled between the feet of these towering giants. In his book, Tolkien describes how Strider is transformed from the weatherworn Ranger to Aragorn son of Arathorn, the exiled king. For seeing the likeness of his forefathers reminds him of the great deeds of the past and the role he is to play in the future.

All throughout Tolkien’s stories, the dead are remembered; the past is recalled as stories within the greater story. Deeds are recounted, whether they were good or ill. The stories are told for a purpose: to inform the present.

The Biblical stories are no different. Consider the Acts of the Apostles. Here we learn what the disciples did after Jesus left them. But these stories have another layer, humming beneath the surface. Having walked through the gospels with these men, especially Peter, we can see the dichotomy. The Peter before and after the resurrection. The Peter before and after he received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 11 is revealing. This man who once acted so rashly and defensively when challenged now responds calmly and concisely.

And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning,” (Act 11:2-4)

Moreover, this man who once rebuked Christ Himself (Matt 16:23) because his mind was on the things of man rather than the things of God, would now enter the house of a Gentile without hesitation, and eat with him.

Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Act 11:16-17)

We don’t have to understand everything about first-century customs, laws about clean and unclean foods, and the centuries-old animosity between Jew and Gentile for these stories to inform our present.

Peter, the rock on whom Christ said He would build His church, is highly exalted in our world today. Basilicas and an untold number of statues have been raised in his honor.  And, in so much as the beauty of the workmanship and the life of the saint points us to Christ, they have their place.

But for me, it is the story of the sleeping Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, the broken Peter at dawn when the rooster crows, and the restored Peter revealed for us in the first chapters of Acts that arrest my spirit.

Because I can see myself in his failings and I can see my God in his redemption.

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