|Courtroom scene from “Amistad”|
The film “Amistad” is based on the true story of a Spanish slave ship that ends up washing ashore in New England after the slaves kidnapped from Africa were able to mutiny and take control of the ship. The United States of America had just been established as a country and therefore was quite weak on the international scene. The plight of these slaves becomes a political hot potato and a legal battle as the current presidential administration would like to send them back to Spain and not rock the boat with the Spanish monarchy while others are fighting for their freedom. “Are these men free and if not, who do they belong to?” becomes the primary question.
To help ensure that it gets its way the president’s administration sees to it that a young, up-and-coming judge is assigned to the case. The president’s man on the case makes it known to the judge (who happens to be a Catholic) that if he finds in favor of Spain and in support of the Administration then his career is set. For a young judge and a Catholic in Protestant New England this is his ticket! The case begins and as things progress you begin to notice that the conscience of the young judge is prodding him to the point where you see him enter a church the night before the final judgment is to be given in the case. He walks in, blesses himself with holy water and goes to knell in prayer before a crucifix. The next day, to a packed courtroom, the judge finds in favor of the slaves, thus ensuring their freedom and return to Africa. The president’s man stares at the judge and walks out of the courtroom. By siding with the slaves the judge knows he had destroyed his career and all his aspirations but he knows it was the right thing to do.
It is a serious thing to follow Christ and it should not be entered into lightly because to follow Christ means to go where he has gone and it means to embrace the cross just as he embraced it. This is why our Lord in today’s gospel (Lk. 14:25-33) gives us the image of the builder and the king contemplating battle. Both men had to truly consider and calculate out what they were contemplating. It is a serious thing to follow Christ.
In many ways to follow Christ means to break with how one has lived in the past, how one has lived relationships and how one has gone about all facets of one’s life. This is why our Lord gives us these very powerful and stark words of “hating” ones mother and father, brother and sister in order to truly follow him. The power of the word means that everything, every part of one’s life must be re-oriented by and toward one’s relationship with Christ. Nothing can be left out or hidden away. But to follow Christ never leads to anything but more life and more love. As one turns to Christ in his or her life, one is able to love family, neighbor and even the stranger in a deeper and more authentic way.
|The judge giving his verdict|
The judge in the story of Amistad witnesses this graced dynamic of truly following Christ. Just as he comes to “hate” what others have promised him – the success and the power, even probably everything he had worked for and aspired to up until that moment – he is able to know an authentic joy in doing that which was the right thing to do. He gained a joy that no one could ever take away and he gained new brothers and sisters in the freed African slaves!
Paul in his letter (Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17) is calling Philemon to the same graced dynamic on behalf of the newly baptized, runaway slave Onesimus. According to the law of the time Philemon was perfectly in his rights to have Onesimus killed but Paul is saying that now through Christ things are different and he is inviting Philemon to “hate” the old ways of retribution and violence and now recognize how everything must be oriented toward Christ and turned toward Christ in his life. …Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.
It is a truly serious thing to follow Christ. In fact, it is the most serious thing one can ever do. All things which separate us from Christ must be “hated” so true life in all of its depth and breadth might be found and known.