Pastoral Perspectives

To Live Again, One Must Die

            Once in a while we may come across a movie with some subliminal Christian themes that makes us wonder if the producer is a Christian who is trying to impart some biblical truths. Recently I came across one such movie and it kept lingering inside me that I have to express it somewhere if I hope to flush it out. So here is the gist of the movie called theFastest Sword, a late-60s wu-xia pian. The protagonist was an excellent but ruthless swordsman who made a wager with an elderly priest. He lost and had to spend three years serving the priest at the temple, doing menial tasks like copying scrolls and carving out statues. When he was free to go, the once-proud swordsman had become humble in spirit but many still came looking for him for a fight. So he took on a new name and settled down peacefully as a stonemason in a village. But trouble brewed when bandits came and he was forced to fight in order to save the village head and his family who had been kind to him. This however caught the attention of the antagonist, another excellent and ruthless swordsman. And as the popular Chinese saying goes, one mountain cannot hold two tigers and when two tigers meet, one is bound to die, so we can expect the ending to be about these two great swordsmen fighting it out.

            So what’s so Christian about it? Initially I thought it was the years spent at the temple learning the trade of stone masonry. Surely it reminded me of how Jesus spent his years at his father’s shop learning the trade of carpentry. Of course we know that the Lord didn’t lose a wager with the Father such that it was the Son who had to come down to earth. But why was the man willing to do whatever the priest told him to? He wasn’t locked up or punished if he refused. In fact the priest even left him all by himself to finish his task while he left the temple for half a year. This happened three times and each time the man faithfully finished his work in time for the priest to inspect, when he could have just fled away since no one was around or get someone else to do it since no one was watching. Why would he? And why would Jesus? But what really caught my attention were the parting words of the priest after he had served his time: ‘to live again, one must die’. Surely it reminded me of what Jesus says in John 12:24, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Of course we know the context here is quite different but still it intrigued me and kept me glued to the movie in order to discover the wisdom behind. As it turned out, the final battle was fought inside a temple while the rest of the villagers waited outside. When the fighting seemed to have ceased, they rushed in to find the two slumped together. Then the scene switched to a funeral where two coffins bearing their names were buried side by side while another swordsman who had just come to the village (obviously to look for a fight) was rather disappointed to learn that the man had died. But of course, only the antagonist died while the protagonist decided to let the world think that he had also died. Therefore he was able to live a whole new life as a stonemason in the village he called home. So to live again, he must die.

            I suppose we can draw many parallels or lessons from the movie but I shall look at just one for reflection, i.e. why would everyone in the whole village be willing to conspire and fool the pugilistic world or jiang hu that the man had died? The only clue we have in the movie is when the village head told him that everyone really wanted him to stay in their village. Perhaps they saw him as their saviour, one who could protect them against bandits. Maybe they wanted the village to prosper because of his masonry skill. Or it could be that he was a real nice guy that everyone loved. But whatever it is, the ruse feels rather fragile and delicate to me. What if some passing visitors should recognize him, confront the villagers and threaten the peace? What if the man should offend someone in the village and the person should expose the ruse? What if he turned evil? So if this had not been a movie script but a real-life scenario, I really wonder how long the ruse can hold up to. What do you think?

            What about Jesus? Did he also pretend to die? That would be quite impossible since it was the Roman authorities that verified and certified his death. Did the disciples pretend to claim that he had been raised from the dead? So was it really a ruse after all? But why would all his disciples be willing to conspire and fool the world about his resurrection? Could an imaginary Saviour really protect them against persecution and grant them eternal life in the glorious presence of God? Surely it had to be the most fragile ruse ever known to man. But their lives and testimonies, played out in real-life scenarios seem to suggest that it was no man-made ruse. And I am sure about it. What about you? Do we seriously believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, ascended into heavens and will descend one day as Saviour, King and Lord? What if the world should confront our belief and threaten our lives? What if one of our own should fail us? That is, when faced with persecution of whatever kinds, will we still hold on to our faith or do we hang up? Some early Jewish believers were thinking of the latter and so God gave them the book of Hebrews. And since we would not know when persecution may come our way and how we might respond to it, it is also a timely and timeless book for us all. So let us hear what the Spirit says when the church resumes with the preaching of Hebrews. And finally, allow me to share one last inspiration drawn from the Chinese saying given in the movie: no one can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and money. So which tiger would you slay? The choice is yours and your decision will determine if Jesus is really your Lord and Saviour.

Pastor Ronnie Ang

August 21, 2011