To say that I was raised by films would not be a wholly inaccurate statement. Many holidays or celebrations have watching one or more movies on the day as a vital component. At Christmas my family always watches Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and we watch The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve night – and only on Christmas Eve night. Easter was no different and we would watch one of several religious-themed films on the day, depending on how old my sister and I were and how advanced our ability to understand them was. One film that we watched almost every year, and that has become one of my personal favorite cinematic experiences, is the movie Ben-Hur.
Based on the novel by the same name, Ben-Hur was released in 1959 and stars Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, and many other famous actors of the day. The film, a biblical epic in the best tradition of the form, tells the story of three men: Judah Ben-Hur, a fairly wealthy and prosperous Jewish prince living in Judea, Messala, a Roman soldier and longtime friend of Ben-Hur and his family, and Jesus of Nazareth, a man who really needs no introduction. The film focuses on the conflict between Judah and Messala, friends turned into the most bitter of enemies when Messala, upon his return from Rome, throws Judah’s mother and sister into prison and him onto a prison barge for the rest of his life for a simple accident. Jesus is really only a recurring background figure in the story of Judah’s struggle for freedom, then revenge, then forgiveness – but an incredibly important one. Without the influence of Jesus’ actions and words, Judah would have pursued a path which led only to destruction, death, and pain.
On this Easter Sunday I would like to encourage you all, no matter what your religious background may be, to have the courage to believe in something – to have faith in an idea, a deity, or a cosmic force. Ben-Hur, through the course of the film, becomes a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, but some of his most impactful moments on Ben’s life occur when Ben listens to him just as a man. It’s Jesus’ words, the ideas which he urges others to adopt and which he himself lives daily, in which Ben first starts to believe. And it’s these ideas, that we should forgive those who do us wrong, that there is a justice far higher than that of man, that love in the face of hate is the worthiest weapon, that change Ben’s life forever.
Faith, the belief in an idea or truth which has no measurable existence, is a force unlike any other. It’s hard work, faith. Something that I’ve personally struggled with in my own life for the past few years is keeping faith in things like my religion, other people in my life, my own goals, and my own beliefs. But without faith, hope is hard to come by; and without hope, life can seem awfully empty most of the time. Have faith in each other, in your friends and neighbors, in the world as a whole, in fate, in science, in anything, and you give yourself the energy you need to do extraordinary things in our own life and the life of others.
Happy Easter everyone!
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