Sermon Ideas For Luke 4:14-21 Part 3
Forrest Gump is a Christ figure. He lives a life quite unlike anybody else's, is adulated by an adoring public for all the wrong reasons, speaks to the common people in a way nobody else can, and the thrust of his life is redemption for others.
Of course, Forrest Gump isn't presented as a Christ figure. He begins as a crippled boy, picked on by cruel neighborhood kids, and befriended only by Jenny, a loner in her own right. Forrest is deemed slow by the school authorities, but his mother (Sally Fields), through a singularly common offering of herself, manages to persuade the principal to keep her son in the mainstream. But Forrest is never like the others. His needs are simple, his reasoning never subtle, his emotions always clear, his motivation evident, and his loyalties are ironclad. He is devoted to his mother and to Jenny and Bubba, his only friends. He remains that way for the rest of his days.
Jesus' life, also, was one of simple needs, direct actions, clear teachings, and singular loyalty. That Jesus' allegiance was only to the will of his invisible Father makes the poignancy of his life all the more visible. In the end, everyone else abandoned him.
Gump's one friend abandons him; the now-rebellious Jenny (Robin Wright) becomes a flower child of the 60's, while Forrest is drafted and shipped to Vietnam. He saves several members of his platoon who walk into a murderous enemy trap, but he is unable to save Bubba, with whom he was going to be partners in a shrimping boat after the war. The lieutenant wishes Gump hadn't saved him, because now he is a double amputee, but Gump continues to stay with him after they are both released from the hospital, and eventually they wind up in the shrimping business together. There, the paraplegic former lieutenant is redeemed: he finds a usefulness for his life, and they both become prosperous beyond their imaginations, because a tropical storm destroys all the other boats overnight. It's like the disciples going fishing after Jesus' resurrection: after catching nothing all night, suddenly they are not able to bring the nets in for the great quantity of fish they have caught (Jn 21:6). The abundance is not for its own sake, but is really more of a sign to point beyond, to enable them to go and do something greater than fishing.
Gump returns to his home to bury his mother (hers is one of the few lives he encounters which doesn't need redeeming, just as Mary is the one figure in the Bible that many consider as holy in her own right). In the past, Forrest has shown some extraordinary abilities, like sprinting and ping pong, that have propelled him to the attention of others and enabled him to do things which other people considered useful (like Jesus' healings). But now, in his young retirement from public life, Gump has decided to do something simple, like mow the football field for free at his old alma mater, and await the return of his beloved Jenny, who is every bit as restless as the spirit of an ill wind: she beguiles, she entices, she seduces, and then she abandons. Gump spends his whole life believing that he can save her and win her loyalty to him. But she only returns to him when she's contracted a terminal illness, and needs him to care for the son she's leaving behind. Gump empties himself for another and finds himself in so doing. At the end, he wonders if what happens to us is our destiny, or just circumstance, and he concludes that it's a little of both, which represents the truth of most of our lives, as well.
What saves this movie from its own deadly seriousness is its insistent playfulness about making Forrest Gump the central figure in current events of the day. He meets several Presidents, and the clever morphing and splicing techniques look startlingly real. He is given responsibility for everything from spotting the Watergate break-in to giving others the ideas for bumper stickers and happy faces. There is a certain sad inevitability to it all, though, particularly all the assassinations, even as there is a certain sad inevitability to the assassination of Jesus. But there is also a great sense in which his death has made him larger than life.
Jesus, too, was praised by everyone for his directness and simplicity. He seemed to have a good and powerful spirit in him that wasn't in everybody else. He wandered some distance from home, but was never very far away, and it was no surprise to anyone to find him in his own synagogue. What was startling was to hear him say how he saw himself: as someone who sets others free. Gump shared his good fortune with the family of his Army buddy who died, and so brought good news to the poor. He showed his old lieutenant how to not become a prisoner of his own limitations, and so proclaimed release to the captives. He befriended a black man when nobody else would, and brought out his humanity to the others, and so helped to recover the sight of the blind. He kept loving his beloved Jenny even when she kept abandoning him, until she finally overcame her self-defeating anger, and so set free the oppressed. And despite the fact that he had kept company with the powerful and the famous, he saved his energy and attention for the everyday people, the people who happened to sit on the bench of the bus stop where he sat.
Can Forrest Gump redeem us? Of course not. But he is a reminder to us about how much difference the life of one person can make. And how redemption doesn't have to be an event of the past, but a way of life for the present.
Ronald P. Salfen
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