Tuesday, November 20, 2007


"All in good time, we will reap what we sow." Galatians 6:9

What's ironic about the new film version of Beowulf is that it warns against the very things that made the original Anglo-Saxon poem so popular in the first place.

Reputation and legacy were the foremost concern of the old English, who wrote the epic story of Beowulf ten centuries ago; but in the movie, reputation and legacy are the very things that weigh down and eventually destroy the hero. That said, it's probably a good thing we have evolved as a culture.

We first meet Beowulf (played by Ray Winstone) as a warrior who has built his own legend, supported by the adoration of his countrymen and reinforced by his own suave storytelling. He comes to the aid of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) as his kingdom is being torn apart by Grendel (Crispin Glover), a hideous, deformed monster who eats people because he cannot stand the noise of merrymaking. But Beowulf does not come to help because he wants to help the frightened people of the kingdom; he comes because of reputation.

This proves to be his undoing. Because of this reputation, he won't rest until his legend has been written. Even love of the queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) cannot stop Beowulf from securing his legacy. While this chain of events leads the hero to establishing his own kingdom, it also leads him to a life of unhappiness.

Beowulf sowed the seeds of reputation, pride, and power early in his life. In ancient days, this might have been admirable or noble. But to what end? By the end of his life, he reaped what he sowed: a harvest built on dishonesty, deceit, and cowardace? In the film version of this epic tale, we find that Beowulf must literally reap what he had sown - his own son (a spectacular dragon birthed from an illicit affair with Grendel's mother, played by Angelina Jolie).

If we are destined to reap what we have sown, what seeds have we already planted that we must account for? Did we build our careers on the backs of others or through hard work? Did we come to the aid of others for our glory or out of love of neighbor? Do we cover up the secrets of our past from those we love or are we honest and forthright? Are we more concerned about our own legacy, reputation, and image than about the world around us?

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he reminds the readers, "If you sow in the fields of this world, you will reap a harvest of corruption; for if your seed-bearing ground is the Spirit, you will reap an everlasting life. Let us never grow weary of doing good in our day to day lives. So long as we keep up our good efforts, all in good time, we will reap what we sow." (Gal. 6:8-9)

While God is merciful, we cannot rely only upon that mercy for last-minute help. We cannot say, "One day, when I settle down, I will do the right thing." We cannot say, "I can get away with this for now, and make it up later." We cannot say, "It's just one little lie, one little fib." Each and every day, with each and every action, we plant the seeds of our life. If we plant bad seeds now, imagine what we will have to contend with in the days to come.

Beowulf thought like this, and it got back to him in the end. We do not know when our time of judgement will come. We do not know when the harvest will come in. What we do know is what seeds we've planted, and what we need to do to make it a beautiful harvest.


Anonymous said...

Though I have not seen the movie or read the original poem, it really makes me think of recent experiences I have encountered in my own life. Sometimes, the act of making the right choice in the moment, reaps rewards of great joy and success. Sometimes, it is a change of heart that ends up changing your life.
Just some thoughts I had after reading your post.

Anonymous said...

Could you offer me some advice about how to not "cave under pressure" and not come across as just trying to make excuses to someone, like a counselor or other authority figure, when someone expresses frustration towards you, in terms of looking for "attention"?
Please, could you respond back if you have a chance? Thanks a lot.

Jarzembowski said...

Remain confident in yourself. It's a true balancing act, to be self-confident but not become selfish and conceited. But if you are worried about caving under pressure, one of the issues might be a lack of self-confidence.

True wisdom is realizing when to act self-confidently, and when to be humble and accept what other people say to you, even critical things. Different days call for different ways of responding to situations. We must pray for the wisdom to discern the difference.