Three provocative statements to consider as we enter together into tonight’s production:
1. Christ-figures appear in various forms of literature. Writers as diverse as C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), Earnest Hemingway (The Old Man in the Sea), Bernard Malumud (The Natural) and John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) imbue their protagonists with Christ-like qualities, often leading us to see familiar aspects of the Gospel story with fresh eyes. In his apologetic writing, Lewis argues that the appearance and reappearance of Christ-figures in myth and literature testifies to the inherent truth of the Gospel to our daily lives; Christ keeps showing up, often where we least expect. This said, we must acknowledge a key difference between Christ-figures and Christ. Jesus was not literally a lion, an old fisherman, a baseball player, or a fallen-away Pentecostal preacher from Oklahoma. The fact that these characters exhibit some of Christ’s defining characteristics only serves to remind us of the essence of the Gospel story and how we are all, at our core, image-bearers.
2. As a culture, we do a poor job of ministering to our social and economic outcasts. This production forces us to remember this sad fact, and begs the question: “Who are the ‘Okies’ of today—and how are we serving them?”
3. Our American expressions of Christianity reveal annoying tendencies that emphasize the individual over the corporal. Sometimes we allow our individualistic culture to define the Gospel exclusively as a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This stops short of an equally pressing biblical call to live in community, ceaselessly serving the “least of these” our brothers and sisters. This separation is false. Christ’s directive to the apostle Peter’s individualistic affirmation that he loved Jesus was to direct him to feed and care for the community (John 21:15). As stewards of the creation, God calls us to live and sustain our individual faith through community. At its best, The Grapes of Wrath reveals to us our corporal body and our social responsibility.