Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a fascinating novel about the culture of the Deep South of the 1930's. There are many themes interwoven in this story. It is written from the point of view of a young girl whose father, Atticus Finch, is defending a black man accused of the rape of a white woman. Although he is simply doing his duty as a lawyer, Atticus becomes very unpopular with some members of his community. At one point he has to face down a lynch mob and persuade them to move on. Even if he makes it to trial, Atticus knows that he has little chance of winning his case-the jury will be constituted of white, rural people. Even his children are being harassed at school because of him and his refusal to back down or shirk his duty.
Atticus might very well identify with the Psalmist in Psalm 31:11(ESV):
Because of all my adversaries I
have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbours,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
Indeed, the young black man wrongfully accused of the crime might identify with the verse as it continues:
I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many-
terror on every side!-
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life. (v. 12-13).
We can see in Scripture the acknowledgement of how difficult life can be for those who are unjustly persecuted.
There is an interesting passage in the novel where one of the neighbours of Atticus Finch tries to explain to the children-- Jem and Scout-- that their father was not universally hated and there were those in the community who admired him for what he did in trying to defend an unpopular cause:
"I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them."
"Oh," said Jem. "Well."
"Don't you "oh well" me, sir," Miss Maudie replied, recognizing Jem's fatalistic noises, "you are not old enough to appreciate what I said."
Jem was staring at his half-eaten cake. "It's like bein' a caterpillar in a cocoon, that's what it is," he said. "Like somethin' asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that's what they seemed like."
"We're the safest folks in the world," said Miss Maudie. "We're so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we've got men like Atticus to go for us."
There is a world of meaning here. The children are trying to make sense of their community. They are trying to make sense of right and wrong. They find themselves at odds with what they thought were the "best folks in the world." Miss Maudie is trying to reassure them that their father is in fact a good person, a Christian. A Christian does not always go along with the popular prejudices and emotions of the time. A Christian sometimes will have to take a very unpopular stand. This is a lot to learn.
Most of us will never have to endure anything quite as extreme and baffling as the complex culture of the Deep South. We should, however, always be prepared to endure great and unexpected challenges as Christians. Atticus Finch is not a preacher, nor is he portrayed as being an outspoken evangelical. Yet he receives the highest compliment the neighbour, Miss Maudie, can possibly give him-he is a Christian, and indeed, one who acts on behalf of other Christians. By doing his duty with integrity and courage he sets himself apart.
Miss Maudie's definition of "Christian" may not be entirely complete, from a theological point of view. It does remind us of Luke 9:23:
And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
"Take up his cross daily" will mean different things to different people, as we are all gifted in different ways and called to live out our lives in different ways. We know we are loved by God; we are utterly convinced of it-yet we know also we are called to meet great challenges in this broken world. We are called to discern when to embrace our community, when to lead, when to set an example, and indeed when also to stand apart. May we pray together for strength and wisdom.
In faith and fellowship,
Outreach Canada - more...