I love the book of James; lots of good stuff in there. I was recently asked to speak on James 4:13 through 5:6, which is interesting passage of Scripture. Before continuing you might want to go and give it a quick read. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you before I continue….
James through the Eyes of George (Part 1)
I’m going to share with you the plot of movie, so if you haven’t seen it, I apologize. This movie, however, was first released in 1946, so if you haven’t seen it yet…well…I’m still sorry.
I have watched this movie nearly every Christmas since I was a child—all three hours of it—and still to this day the closing scene still causes a single solitary tear to roll down my cheek….every, single, time.
Although this movie is not a spiritual film, as such, when I read through the Scripture passage for today this movie—It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed—was one of the first things that came to my mind. Actually, the first thing—I should really read the passage before agreeing to teach on it…any verse that approaches the topic of eating flesh ought to be handled carefully!
However, I’m not going to do an exegetical deep dive today. Using the word “exegetical” might be as exegetical as I get today. Rather, through the use of this movie as a parable and illustration, I hope to highlight a a few important points and give us all a little bit of food for thought to chew on together, with enough left over to allow us all to take home a doggie bag.
So, my friends, here we go.
On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey is contemplating suicide. His business is on the verge of bankruptcy, and he is about to be swallowed up by the misery, hardened, and corrupt Mr. Potter—the man who owns nearly everything in town, except for George’s small Bailey Brothers Building-and-Loan business.
Mr. Potter—no relation to Harry Potter–is the very image of evil, oppression, corruption, and rotten wealth. [He is what James was talking about when he mentioned “flesh being eaten like fire”] People who work for Potter and those who live in his over-priced housing projects live difficult lives of being over-worked, suffer great financial burden, and enjoy little happiness.
By contrast, George’s small building and loan offers people the opportunity to work hard, save their money, and build a house they can afford, an affordable house in which they can raise their family. And this makes Mr. Potter very, very angry…he would like nothing more than squash George Bailey under thumb.
We quickly learn that living in Bedford Falls and operating the Bailey Brothers Building and Load was NOT the plan that George Bailey has for his life.
He once said to Mary, the women he would eventually marry—
“I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. I’m shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m going to see the world! Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then I’m coming back here and go to college and see what they know…and then I’m going to build things. I’m gonna build air fields. I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…”
George Bailey had dreams….BIG dreams. After high school he would work for four years to earn money for his big worldwide adventure. When George leaves town, the plan is for his little brother Harry to take his place at the Building and Loan and work for four years before he goes on to college.
Then, tragically, on the night of Harry’s high school graduation, George’s father dies suddenly from a stroke. George cancels his trip to help the family, but plans to leave as soon as everything is in order. At the board meeting of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, Mr. Potter selfishly offers to buy out the Building and Loan, for a good price—a price would have easily paid for George’s worldwide adventure and more. Then, in a moment of frustration and inspiration, George addresses Mr. Potter—
“Neither you nor anybody else can say anything against [my father’s] character…he never once thought of himself…But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter.
And what’s wrong with that?
Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”
In the end, the Building and Loan board agrees to refuse Potter’s offer, but only if George will agree to stay on as the manager and CEO. In the movie the frame freezes for a moment as George realizes the weight of the moment and the decision he must make.
Have you ever had a moment like that—when the world seems to stand still and the weight of a decision almost seems to crush you? I have…and if you haven’t had an experience like this yet…you will.
Will George follow his dreams and plans…or will stay and follow in his fathers footsteps, continue to carry out his father’s vision, and continue to stand against the evil that is Mr. Potter.
In the end, George agrees to stay and continue his father’s business, the business that, as a young man, he despised…he wanted no part of it. In fact, just a couple of hours before his father’s death, George had told his father that the Building and Loan was just too small of a thing for him to give his life to. He was destined for BIG things…GREAT things….yet, in the moment of decision, he makes the hard choice to stay.
Sometimes staying is a more difficult decision than going…
Thanks for reading!