Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

Have you seen Akira Kurosawa’s “Red Beard” (1965)? It sweats Mockingbird-style (a.k.a., one-way/monergistic) Gospel from every pore! I can think of no other film that better explores and explains the relationship that exists between grace and ethics. Occasionally a movie will offer one or perhaps two helpful sermon-type illustrations. Red Beard, by comparison, leaves all of the ones I have seen in the dust with its a veritable harvest of illustrations.

Let me describe a 10-minute-long series of events from the middle of the film:

Red Beard (a wise doctor who runs a hospital for the poor) is called to a brothel to treat an ailing 12-year-old girl. He arrives at the nasty place with his assistant only to find the young girl being beaten with a stick by her “mother” the chief Madame of the establishment. The girl is being punished for stubbornly refusing to participate in the place’s (ehem) trade. She won’t speak, and is terribly ill in both mind and body.

Red Beard immediately sees through the situation and explains that “the girl is very sick and needs treatment in a hospital.” The girl’s mother protests, saying that, basically, the girl is worth a lot of money to her. She then proceeds to summon the local pimp alliance who invite the doctor to “come outside”, where they are waiting to beat him to a pulp. They lock the gate and gather around Red Beard (who steps into the courtyard without a moment’s hesitation). He proceeds to beat up the entire gang using a combination of Judo, brute strength, and chiropractic know-how, leaving the ground strewn with moaning bodies.

At this point, he calls his assistant outside, and asks him to help him treat the injured men. The two of them walk around the courtyard, tending to each man, healing them and bandaging up their wounds before leaving with the girl in tow, riding in a sling on the assistant’s back.

The illustration spoke to me in a few ways. It brings to life the idea of God as an intervening agent in the midst of the fallen world’s darkness. For the helpless young girl, he is a savior of the most loving variety (though she too later tries to reject his treatment!), but for the pimp and his associates, Red Beard comes roaring like Aslan, tearing them down that he might then heal them too, though they were too hard of heart initially to recognize and appreciate his good intent.

One of these men has had his shoulder dislocated by Red Beard in the fight, and there is great fear in his face as the good doctor hunches over him. The man tries to squirm away from the approaching medic but is pinned against a wall and in pretty rough shape. Red Beard then treats the wound he inflicted upon the man with great care.

It is a perfect analogy for the theology of the cross, wherein the experience of God’s love is interpreted incorrectly by the fallen subject, having so little insight and/or similarities with his/her redeemer. Along the same lines, Luther remarked: “God must first be the devil before he can be God.”

Note: the scene referred to is just the tip of the iceberg! After seeing it – it’s Criterion Edition, by the way – I was not surprised to find out that Kurosawa is Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite film-maker, or that Kurosawa’s favorite author was Dostoevsky, or that his favorite director (as was also the case with Orson Welles) was John Ford, or, more seriously, that his older brother committed suicide. It was that same brother who walked the 13-year-old soon-to-be film legend around the rubble and dead of the 1923 earthquake that killed over 100,000, forcing the young boy not to look away. It was an approach that both later defined Kurosawa’s film-making, and, 1900+ years earlier, characterized much of Christ’s ministry.