Ben-Hur: the Win of a Vengeance Loses Out to the Victory on a Cross


This month the overall Story Focus will be on the life-and-death nature of story stakes—an appropriate topic given the life-and-death stakes that we celebrate during the Easter season. 

This Sunday’s theme movie is the 1959 sword-and-sandals classic Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston in the title role. It’s a film with set-piece after set-piece (including its classic chariot race scene) that create a bigger-than-life setting for one man’s journey of revenge and forgiveness. It was based on a best-selling novel from the 19th Century and has a climax that parallels the historic events surrounding Christ’s passion on the cross. With that setup, let’s look at the contrast between the personal and the epic, especially in regards to our paths as believers and the stories we tell: sometimes a character achieves their goal (like Judah Ben-Hur’s achieving revenge for the betrayal at the hands of his old friend Messala) and yet it turns out to be a hollow victory (which in Judah’s case is only resolved when he encounters an act of kindness and mercy in Christ’s presence). At other times, a character will experience a defeat, and yet it will turn out to be exactly what they were needing to overcome a greater existential problem (such as in Jurassic Park).

In any case, a well-told story creates a compelling dynamic that balances out the personal journeys of its characters while creating a larger context for the audience to draw meaning from for their own lives.  Which can be a good mirror of the journey that an individual believer undertakes when he or she puts the hand to the plow and doesn’t look back—it’s a personal journey full of wins and losses that will make that person fit for something greater—service in the Kingdom of God.

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