Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tower Heist & In Time

"Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of the night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake... so, too, you must also be prepared for at an hour or day you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Mt. 24:43-44

In the middle ages, tales of Robin Hood stealing from the rich became incredibly popular among the poor peasants of the English countryside. And during the Great Depression, movies about money-stealing gangsters were the favorite of low income Americans. Could it be that, today, in our recessed economy, we are once again drawn to stories about the downfall of the rich?

Two movies this month, Tower Heist (staring Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller) and In Time (with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfriend), revolve around this very issue: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer - and someone needs to stand up to this injustice.

Tower Heist is a comedy where a band of apartment complex workers, whose pensions were lost in a Ponzi scheme involving Wall Street executive Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), take matters into their own hands to redistribute Shaw's wealth to their fellow employees. While their actions are still criminal, one cannot help but root for the motley crew led by Murphy and Stiller. Too often, the richest 1% can get away from crimes that the other 99% must suffer for... and we cheer on those who try (albeit illegally) to balance the scales of justice.

In Time, in much the same vein, is an action thriller set 150 years in the future when money doesn't exist and the only commodity is time. Humans are paid in hours and minutes - and the more time given, the longer one has to live. What happens is that, even without physical money, the rich will still live longer and the poor will die sooner. The film follows one poor man living in the ghetto (Timberlake) who, after unexpectedly receiving a century of time, decides to set matters right and steal hours, months, and years away from those with time to spare.

Despite their divergent approaches, both movies remind us of what Jesus said in the Scriptures: "the poor you will have with you always..." (Mt. 26:11) - but also what he said about the proper placement of the poor in our world: "many who are now first should be last, but those who often finish last must be the first." (Mt. 19:30).

Too often, those who enjoy riches and power are so consumed with their wealth and dominion that they forget that God's kingdom is about equity and social justice. Even if we have limited income, temptation can come to each of us to squander or lord our possessions above those who do not. At one point or another in our lives, we have been guilty of misusing the gifts - spiritual or physical - that God has graced us with.

Our time on earth, Jesus also says in Scripture (specifically Mt. 25:31-46), will be judged according to how we helped the poor, the hungry, the suffering, and the marginalized in this life. Money, power, and prestige will matter for nothing.

So we cheer on our movie heroes (like the feisty band of misfits in Tower Heist or Timberlake and Seyfried's Bonnie-and-Clyde characters in In Time) just we would cheer on Christ, who redistributes favor based on those who deserve it most. Perhaps we should tune into that excitement we feel when the rich get their comeuppance in these types of films. Perhaps this is God's way of urging us to do what we can to tip the scales of justice in favor of those who need it the most.

So when should we start moving in that just direction? Right now. Not after the holidays or when we feel secure enough in our own financial situation. Not when things settle down for us or when we have the time to spare. Instead, God calls us to action as soon as we can.

In these two movies, the heroes had an impact because they didn't wait. They jumped into action when the need arose. "Be sure of this," Jesus tells his disciples, "if the master of the house had know the hour of the night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake... so too you must also be prepared, for an hour or day you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (Mt. 24:43-44).

Let us make the most of the time given to us. In Time reminds us that those who think they have all the time (i.e. money and power) in the world do not really "live" - but those who recognize that their last moment could be around the corner live life to the fullest. The same should go for us.

As we do not know the day or the hour, we should make sure that the life we live now is lived to its fullest extent: by giving to the poor, loving the marginalized, deepening our relationships, forgiving our enemies, and taking in all of God's grand creation.

And that time is now.