I don’t know if you were as excited as I was to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but one thing that particularly stood out to me was the exploration of the mission that Gandalf undertook apart from his dwarf and hobbit companions.
Even though it is outside of the story as J.R.R. Tolkien originally told it, I think that we were handed a very good image of what it means to walk as a Christian in our everyday lives.
Beware, I am going to be talking about an important part of the movie’s plot, so spoilers are going to be coming your way.
Gandalf had to face a major decision. He could either venture into the mysteriously evil Dol Guldur and attempt to understand a little more about the evil that was rapidly spreading over Mirkwood and the rest of Middle Earth, or he could return to his companions and help them along their way to the Lonely Mountain. Their cause was noble; they were trying to retake their homeland from the clutches of an evil dragon.
Both sides have relative merits. On one hand, he is trying to save the world. He is trying to prevent a greater evil from spreading even farther than it already had, but at the time, you don’t know if that decision would ultimately cause the death of those that he loves (except for the fact that you know there will be a third movie). He had to abandon them in a sense in order to do something that was indeed for the benefit of the entire world which included his friends.
As Christians, are we not called to do the same thing? We need to make some difficult decisions, and sometimes we need to do things that might seem to hurt those near us temporarily. However, making that decision allows us to ultimately follow through on our first commitment to Jesus Christ and perhaps even helping those that we temporarily stepped away from.
Luk 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
These are difficult verses, but I think that if we ever end up in a discussion about them, the aforementioned example might provide a relatable way to communicate the essence of this sometimes problematic passage.
Gandalf could have been accused of hating his friends in this situation. He did not help them in their hour of need, and he put their lives in great danger. However, he did it because he found something better to fight against. Reclaiming a homeland is certainly a noble cause, but saving the world is ultimately more valuable because if the world is not protected, that homeland itself would have been useless anyway. He had to put a greater mission above the one that his friends wanted him to be on with them.
Isn’t this quite similar to what we are called to do? The mission that we are given by Jesus is our higher mission. Before we had that mission, we thought that is perfectly fine to be tied up in the affairs of the people around us. However, when we found out that there was a higher calling, what was happening in our lives before was no longer good enough. We needed to take on the mission that had more significance even though it might take something away from that we were able to give to those around us.
I have found that having an example while you are discussing difficult passages can often times help create understanding. We certainly don’t follow this verse of unconditionally following Jesus because Gandalf shows radical commitment to eliminating the evil in a fantasy world. That would be a radical misinterpretation of what I’m trying to say here.
Rather, I’m trying to help you find some common ground with an audience you will be talking to who might not be Biblically literate as to why following Jesus is so important. Connecting is the important part here, and it might help you lean into conversations that can help provide a clear picture of what these occasionally misrepresented verses truly mean.