25 Jul 2011
“‘When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.’” (Matt. 13:46) In the name …
Last weekend the Harry Potter movie broke the record for the most money earned on an opening weekend. By the time the movie runs its course, it may very well be the highest grossing film ever made. Combine that with the seven movies that came before it in this series and we’re talking some pretty impressive coin. When the movies came out, fans would line up for hours to get into the theaters. But before the movies, there was the equal or even greater excitement whenever one of the seven books was to be published. The movies were well made and had some great visual effects, the actors were all convincing, but the books held the fans in suspense. That couldn’t be repeated in the theaters because just about everyone who went to see the movies already knew the lines as well as the actors did. That made for good movies, but also for great reading.
But I can only guess about any of this. I have never read one page of any Harry Potter story. I’ve seen the movies when they’ve come to television, and I even saw Part One of “Deathly Hallows” on a library DVD just a few days ago. And I’m not a lot of fun to watch the movies with either. I have to keep asking “Who’s that?” “What does that do?” “Is she a good guy or a bad one?” But I have to admit that I am impressed with the lessons that J.K. Rowling has been able to teach through these seven books and eight movies over the past 14 years. I know some churches and pastors have worried about kids being entranced by witchcraft, but I think kids are smarter than that. I read the Tolkien books about Middle Earth myself when I was young and I never once believed that hobbits and wizards were for real. Instead of warning about her writings, churches should be talking about the good and decent messages that have found a way into the mainstream media through the Harry Potter series, and even more than good and decent, the downright Christian lessons found in them. The popularity of this whole project should be a great opportunity to speak again and anew about the gospel message, to maybe wipe off some of the age-old grime and see again the hidden pearl.
The theme of self-sacrifice is so strong in the Harry Potter series that before the last book came out no one could guess whether Harry would die or live at the end of the story. His connection with Jesus was that strong. The idea that an honest, sacrificial love would prove stronger than any power arrayed against it was repeated book after book, movie after movie. There were all of these young people, parents and so many others throughout the world who were drawn into this story of a loyal and honest character who fought selflessly against the forces of evil, but who never really compromised his own values, who never became what he fought against. They were excited about this message.
J.K. Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland. She knows the gospel story. And she has said, “To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious.” She may write of mythical characters, creatures and places, but her themes are as old and familiar as the Bible. She is quoted as saying that the two verses found on tombstones in the final book almost epitomize the whole series. The verses are: “And the last enemy that shall be defeated is death” and the other is “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The first one is from Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians and the second one is straight out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. She speaks to us of the same themes as the Bible. She deserves the thanks of churches and Christians because she has quietly and subtly returned a sense of wonder to generations that have somehow grown accustomed to this same story but when told in the name of Jesus, who have lost the sense of suspense when the fight against evil is told in the language of sin and righteousness. She’s alerting us to the hidden treasure, the undiscovered pearl.
Last weekend I was in Boston. On Saturday afternoon I had gone one way, Kristin another, and Sharon and Amanda still another. I needed to get our hotel room key back from Sharon so I had to meet up with her and Amanda in a store called Forever 21. It’s three stories of young women’s fashions. There were three stories full of girls looking at clothes, wall to wall shopping for clothes. I went into that store just to find Sharon and I got out just as quickly. On my way out, I see this young guy, maybe 16, 17 or 18. He’s big; he’s tattooed, and he looks so depressed. You could tell he was waiting for his girlfriend. I walked by and said to him, “You must really be in love.” He just shook his head. All those young women saw something of great value, three stories of great value. It was plain as day to them. They saw it. Me and that poor other guy shaking his head, we just couldn’t.
When hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to read and watch the Harry Potter stories, stories that the author herself links to gospel themes, we can maybe begin to see the same sort of thing happening that is told in today’s parables and that I saw with my own eyes in that young man’s tired face at Forever 21. Maybe J.K. Rowling sees the same wonder in the Bible stories as when the gospel was first told to us. Maybe she can awaken us to see the Bible and its message as the hidden pearl of great value that is too often overlooked. There is a power not only in the story of Jesus, but in the man. Put His self-sacrificing battle against all that hurts and harms into the guise of Harry Potter, and people can’t wait to read and are willing to stand for hours in line to watch. Maybe this can help us to see again what has been hidden by familiarity, repetition and repeated sermons. In today’s parables, the treasure doesn’t come easily. Everything else has to be sacrificed to obtain it. It has to be a priority. Harry Potter tells the same story of commitment and sacrifice. We are impressed by it when it happens in a great writer’s imagination, and maybe her talents can help us to be impressed by it again in the story of our faith, in the person of Christ, in the pearl of unrecognized wealth. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo