Sunday Matinne #35 Witness
The votes are in on the latest poll!
Hello, and thank you for subscribing to R-Rated Movie Club! Looking at a movie through a theological lens has intrigued me for quite some time, and I’m glad you’ve subscribed to this newsletter, a creative outlet for me to try something new. Thanks for participating in the poll earlier this month, let’s look at the results.
Audience Reaction Poll Results
Two weeks ago I asked if you thought some of the movies that shot alternative footage for an official “edited for television” version should also be available to purchase and/or watch. If memory serves me right, we have our first unanimous poll results:
Looks like you’re up for some edited content! That isn’t a sentence I ever really saw myself writing for R-Rated Movie Club, but in this case I think we have a good point. There are a few movies out there with alternative versions that we’d like to see. Maybe it’s so we can show our kids the movie with less worry (Vacation comes to mind). Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor (Tradiing Places). Or maybe it’s just to see how actors take the same scene in a different direction (even Ghostbusters has scenes like this).
I would definitely buy a few of these. Are you listening, Hollywood? I tried looking online for video clips that show a clip comparison of original and edited versions of movie scenes, but I didn’t come across very much. Well, that’s not entirely true.
There is this…
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Quotes With Notes
Full Text: Matthew 18:15-20 (Revised Common Lectionary)
15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 10, 2023)
Sign up for a free course at EnterTheBible.org to learn more.
Context: Jesus teaches the crowds what to do if they find themselves in a broken relationship with another person. His advice isn’t to make a YouTube video about it. He says go talk to them.
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If that person refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Witness | 1985 Paramount Pictures | IMDB
Starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Josef Sommer, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Danny Glover, Brent Jennings, Patti LuPone, Viggo Mortensen
Written by William Kelley and Pamela Wallace & Earl W. Wallace (story), Earl W. Wallace & William Kennedy (screenplay) | Directed by Peter Weir
Context: A young Amish boy, Samuel, witnesses a pair of cops murder another cop. Officer John Book hides amongst the Amish to protect Samuel and himself as his fellow-but-crooked cops hunt them down.
Paul: It's all right. I'm a police officer. This man is wanted for murder. Now stand back!
John: What are you going to do, Paul? Are you going to kill me? Are you going to shoot me? Are you going to kill him?
Paul: Stand back!
John: Are you going to shoot him?
Rachel screams in terror.
John: Is that what you're going to do, Paul? Him? The woman? Me?! It's over! Enough! Enough!
Today’s Gospel reading is the middle of a parable sandwich. Before this, Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek the 1 lost sheep. After this, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant who pleads with his master to forgive him a massive debt, but then he himself won’t forgive a friend a minor debt. The whole chapter addresses temptation in multiple ways.
Jesus offers a solution for how people can hold each other accountable, offer forgiveness, and live together. First, if someone sins against you, go to them. That doesn’t work? Take someone with you. That doesn’t work? Take it to the people. And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says treat them like Gentiles or tax collectors. These are the outsiders of the community, the people Jesus was eating with, making friends with, making an effort with. Meaning, Jesus is saying keep at it.
That could go on for infinity. Which, last I checked, is a big number.
This approach is often called “The Rule of Christ.” If you follow this pattern, you will avoid so many of the juicy pitfalls of disagreement: triangulation, gossip, public humiliation and public shaming, and letting people get away with doing whatever they want instead of attempting repair. Now, not every situation can be repaired. And not every relationship sees reconciliation. But there can be forgiveness even if those other things aren’t present. It’s a matter of deciding if you want to burn with anger for infinity. Which, last I checked, is a big number.
In Witness, this scene toward the very, very, very end of the movie (sorry, it’s the scene that came to mind, and I hope I’m not spoiling this 38-year-old movie too much!), we see John Book (Harrison Ford in his only Academy Award-nominated role) make a stand against a corrupt police officer (Josef Sommer). He’s tried to do this before, but it hasn’t worked. He tried to talk about corruption in the force in person but Paul lied to him. Then they talked on the phone, but it was after Paul had murdered another officer. He has no choice. He has to bring this to the community.
John Book is forced to confront Paul in front of seemingly the entire Amish community as a life-saving tactic. It’s the only way not to be walked to the car at gunpoint. John yells out the stakes of the matter. What are you going to do here, Paul? Kill me, and the boy, and him and her and all of us? Is it public shaming that stops Paul? Perhaps, though I’d also say John followed the Rule of Christ here. They couldn’t come to a resolution. And Paul’s final solution is to show up with two friends and a few shotguns. Not cool, Paul.
For as many action movies as Harrison Ford is famous for, I have always appreciated this confrontation where he saved peoples’ lives with words. I don’t think he’s precisely taking on the Amish way here, but he certainly is rejecting violence. There’s a better way. And here, it works.
There’s another brief moment in this scripture sandwich when a disciple asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone else. He poses an impossibly high number - as many as seven? Jesus counters: nah. Seventy-seven. Ouch. Hope you’re not trying to keep track. Forgiveness is an at odd paradox in the Amish community of this movie. I absolutely will not pretend to know much about actual, factual Amish culture. As for Witness, they are abundantly forgiving of the tourists (or, to use a term from Jaws, “summer dinks”) who make fun of them and cause trouble. But Eli (Jan Rubes) warns Rachel (Kelly McGillis) that if she is caught in an intimate situation with John Book, she will be shunned. Again, I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know that a paradox like this speaks volumes about how forgiveness, accountability, and responsibility fit together.
I’ve written a lot about infinity today. But remember: Jesus says it starts with 2 or 3 gathered in his name. Amazing things can happen when we talk things out.
If I did end up spoiling Witness, my sincere apologies. It is a wonder film, and worth your time! So is this entire chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, for that matter. There’s a lot to learn about forgiveness here.
Like, an infinity amount. Which, last I checked, is a big number.
That does it, Dear Reader, we’ll see you next time. May you be open to the wonder that is around you and may it inspire you to live with generosity and kindness. And to today’s preachers, may gathering for worship with your community encourage you in your own personal faith journey. God’s peace and good movies to you!
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