Forty-One


On Father’s Day, one of my gifts was a few hours of down time and solitude, something that particularly recharges my personal batteries. As part of that down time, I watched one of my favorite all-time movies, “Ben-Hur“. The 1959 film went on to win eleven Academy Awards, which has only been equaled by two other films, “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”.

The most famous  scene in the movie is that of the violent chariot race near the very end of the movie in which Judah Ben-Hur triumphs over his childhood friend turned enemy, Messala, who dies afterward  from injuries sustained in the race. This time through, however, the scene that stood out to me the most was one I had noticed before but, honestly, hadn’t thought much of. The scene comes during the middle of the movie.

Messala, as vengeance for Judah’s refusal to betray his people, assigned Judah to be a galley slave in the Roman navy. In this particular scene, Judah had already been serving in the galleys for over three years when he was assigned to the ship of Consul Quintus Arrias. As Arrias tests the slaves on his ship, Judah, referred to by Arrias as “Forty-One” wins his trust by his restraint and self-discipline. As the ship enters battle, Arrias orders all the slaves to be chained in preparation for battle, all that is except for Judah. During the battle, the ship is rammed by an enemy ship. As the enemies flood the ship and hand-to-hand combat commences, Arrias is knocked overboard in the scuffle. Judah jumps into the water and pulls Arrias to safety. They are later rescued by another ship in the fleet and find out that the Roman fleet had indeed been victorious.

As Arrias walks towards the back of the ship, he takes Judah with him and they begin to pass by the area where the galley slaves can be seen below, living out their miserable existence in monotony as they row away what little life they have left in them. Having been freed from his rowing duties by Arrias, Judah stops and gazes at them in their suffering, as if he longs for their freedom yet knowing that most of them will not survive.

This scene reminded me of what Jesus Christ has done for each and every one of us. He came to earth, lived as one of us, was tempted as we are tempted (Hebrews 4:15), yet was obedient to God the Father even to the point of giving up his own life in exchange for ours. Not only that but he proved his divinity by literally rising from the dead (Romans 10:9). That’s how he freed us from sin and its ultimate consequence, hell.

I pray that God’s Spirit will continually remind me that He’s freed me from the chain that kept me bound to the oar and, as Judah Ben-Hur looked down on those still afflicted and in chains longing for their freedom, that he would give me a heart ever-softening for those Christ is leading me to minister to. By God’s grace, I am no longer a “Forty-One”.

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