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Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Power of the Gospel


A few years ago, I used to teach at a high school in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Al Ain is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. The country is located in the gulf region, and despite its receptiveness of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, Islamic extremism is still rampant, while varying in degrees from the most ultra-orthodox to the more moderate, yet practicing Muslims. In the midst of this setting, I would conduct my affairs, going to school, shopping at the grocery store, and even offering private English lessons to high school students. One of my clients was a Grade 10 student, who was originally from Palestine, and judging by the full hijab and traditional Islamic dress she would wear, she took her faith seriously. She needed help with her novel, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

There is a love triangle in this novel between three characters, Charles Darnay, Lucy Manette and Sydney Carton who has a great physical resemblance to Charles Darnay. Carton is in love with Lucy, while Lucy loves Darnay and later marries him. The settings are England and France during the years of the French Revolution. I read the novel for my student in the course of a month. At the end of the novel, Darnay, being an aristocrat, is imprisoned in France. Without fully disclosing his plans to anyone, Carton’s love for Lucy makes him decide to take Darnay’s place in prison. Carton visits Darnay and exhorts him to exchange his clothing with those Carton is wearing. Quietly and without much explanation, Carton slips into the convicted man’s clothing and takes his place in the guillotine, while Darnay, in full dismay, puts on Carton’s clothes, leaves the prison, and returns to his wife a free man.  As I was reading this part, I could see my student from the corner of my eyes rushing to wipe off her silent tears, which came streaming down her cheeks.

In the background of Dickens’ narrative, there is a clear allusion to the universal theme of Redemption, where a person lays down his life to save the lives of those whom he loves. There is something special about Redemption, something that speaks to the core of our being regardless of our cultural, religious or ethnic backgrounds, and regardless of all the confusion, chaos and perplexity the postmodern society has wrought upon us, we can still recognize a good story of redemption when we hear one. This was definitely the story of Vicky Soto, a first-grade teacher who hid her students in the closet and told the killer that they’re in the gym, which prompted him to pull the trigger on her. Her heroic action has sparked endless tributes that flooded the social media, demonstrating a great sense of devotion, gratitude, and appreciation. Suddenly, online public forums became empty of all polemics and bitter fighting over dogmatic views and were filled with a unifying gesture of love and admiration for the heroine.  

The reaction to the horrifying incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School is almost identical to my student’s reaction to the selfless sacrifice of Sydney Carton. Both incidents stir an emotional response that lauds the person sacrificing himself (or herself) for others. Ms. Soto’s sacrifice, like that of Sydney Carton, embodies an idealized sentiment of profound love that is often missing in our modern, selfish society.  However, the biggest commonality between these two narratives is they both echo the greatest sacrifice of them all, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. In essence, it is Christ’s sacrifice that sets a model, an example or a pattern; every time this model is mirrored, every time this pattern is repeated, it is capable of rousing the hardest of hearts and the gravest of sinners into a noble, dignified and righteous spirit. These examples of Christ’s sacrifice are reminders of a longing that is imprinted on every heart, calling back every sinner to Christ’s love and inviting them to consider their eternal salvation. Unfortunately, often times these reminders go amiss, and the voice of God amidst the narrative is ignored or unrecognized.