Sin, Forgiveness and The Mission
Released in 1986 and starring Robert DeNiro, The Mission is about 18th century Spanish Jesuits who try to protect a remote South American Indian tribe in danger of falling under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal. Using a clip taken from the move, Dr. Pamela Mitchell-Legg provides us this lesson on sin and forgiveness.
Using Film Clips for Conversation
Topic for Conversation: Sin, penance, and forgiveness
Film: The Mission
Intended age group: adults or older youth
Scene: View Chapters 10, 11, and the first part of 12 (through cross being raised on mission church), Time Code 31:45-46:45 (15 minutes)
Description of Scene: The scene shows us the free gift of pardon from sin, rather than the necessity of acts of penance. In these scenes we see the former mercenary soldier, Rodrigo (Robert DeNiro), who has shot and killed his own brother. Wracked with guilt and sorrow, as PENANCE for his sinful acts, Rodrigo is going to join a small group of missionaries who work with the Guarini Indians high above the falls of the Amazon – a location that could only be reached by scaling the dangerous waterfall. Rodrigo does not just climb the falls, but instead loads ALL of the paraphernalia of his former life as a soldier and mercenary into a huge net bag, which he then ties to himself so that he must drag these accoutrements of his former life with him during the climb to his new life in the mission. In Rodrigo’s mind the painful difficulty of lugging the heavy reminders of his past as he undergoes the dangerous climb up the waterfalls, is a necessary penance – a burden no one else can bear for him. In these scenes, we see him embark on this penance and what happens – rather than “atoning” for his sin through the penance of climbing with the physical burden of his sin, that sinful burden is literally cut away from him by an innocent one – one of the Guarini Indians – and it plunges forever into the falls.
How to set up the clip viewing:
Tell participants that this is a scene from a film about the establishment of a Christian mission in South America in the nineteenth century. In the scene they will see, former mercenary soldier Rodrigo (portrayed by Robert DeNiro) has killed his own brother, and as part of his punishment and/or restoration (hmm…which is it? there’s something to talk about!) he is going to take part in the Christian mission to the Guarini Indians who live in the jungle high above the falls of the river. Rodrigo, accompanied by the priests from the mission, is making his way to the mission site at the top of the falls. Reaching the mission requires climbing up the steep, dangerous waterfall. Rodrigo, who is deeply remorseful and self-condemning over killing his own brother, makes the climb to the mission barefoot, carrying all of his possessions (armor, weapons, etc) in a net tied with a rope so that he drags everything behind himself as he climbs to the mission.
Give the viewers the following questions to focus on the following as they watch the clip:
1) Why does Rodrigo climb the falls?
2)Why does he make the climb dragging a huge net bag filled with all his possessions?
3) When Rodrigo accidentally lets his burden fall, why is it important for him to go get it again and continue the arduous climb?
4)Why does the Indian cut Rodrigo’s burden from him?
5)Why does Rodrigo laugh and cry after the burden is cut away?
View the clip
Theological conversation after viewing:
Discuss the viewers’ perspectives on the five viewing questions.
Then, connect the film and the viewers’ answers to a Reformed theological understanding of sin and redemption, using the following notes:
For Rodrigo it is not just the act of killing his brother that is “a sin” but his entire being, the inward man he is, weighed down by way he lives his life (as mercenary, womanizer, angry, killer, self-righteous)
Rodrigo thinks an arduous act of penance, carrying the burden of armor, sword, etc. on a literally difficult and dangerous climb up the falls, is payment for what he has done wrong (killing brother) and might make things right in his life (at-one-ment)
Rodrigo’s physical burden is really an outward manifestation of his inward condition – he is dragging his inner “self, “ the way he IS, up the falls, on an impossible mission. He may think it is a cleansing act of penance but it is not really about what Rodrigo must do in order to be forgiven. It is a depiction of what we all DO –we drag the burden of our broken, sinful self with us.
Indeed, Rodrigo IS forgiven – But it is NOT the climb, the carrying of the weight of his acts, that does it – it is not that an act of penance is demanded of him in order to make himself clean again
The burden he carries – the SIN – is literally cut away and dropped from him BY SOMEONE ELSE, by someone totally innocent, one of the Guarini Indians. It is not the climb or carrying the burden that frees him but a free gift from an innocent.
He is freed by someone else who has no guilt, only innocence in the face of Rodrigo’s life and acts –he is freed by someone who SHOULD hate Rodrigo and want to get rid of him. Instead, that innocent one, the Guarini Indian, cuts Rodrigo free from the burden of his sinfulness.
When the burden is cut away, Rodrigo is freed to be someone else – to be a new man. In response to this gift, all he can do is cry and laugh – in relief and joy.
Then we see him embark on a new life – doing things totally different from his previous life. CRUCIAL POINT: He’s been forgiven, freed, and launched on new way of life, not by his own actions, his works of penance, but by the gracious removal of the burden by the innocent Guarini.
He embarks on a new life, in which he is freed from his burden and free to obey the call to love neighbor (Guarini) as self
WE ARE RODRIGO. CHRIST IS THE GUARINI. WE ARE FREED FROM THE BURDEN OF SIN, BY CHRIST, WHO “CUTS IT AWAY”
Close the session:
Give each person a small piece of paper (perhaps 1/4 of a sheet of blank white paper) and a pen that uses WATER SOLUBLE INK (this is important – you want ink that will dissolve and “disappear” when immersed in water!!)
On their paper, using their water soluble ink pen, have each person make a list of what would be in his/her big net bag of “sinful acts” like Rodrigo’s. What are the burdens of sin YOU carry? NO ONE ELSE WILL SEE OR READ YOUR CONFESSION OF SIN
After time to write, join together in the following prayer of confession:
Eternal God, We confess that we are indifferent to your will. You call us to do what is just, but we remain idle. At times we actively turn from your ways and do unjust, even horrible things. Hear us now as we confess some of the ways we have turned against you and our brothers and sisters.
Invite the participants to come forward to the bowl of baptismal waters, and place their strip of paper bearing some of their sinfulness, into the water. As participants do this, play the Enrico Morriconi theme song from the movie, The Mission (available on CD or downloaded from the internet. NOTE: BE SURE TO HAVE PARTICIPANTS USE PENS YOU PROVIDE WITH WATER SOLUBLE INK!!
After the time of offering up their prayers of confession, use the words of Assurance of Pardon:
In the water of baptism, God claims us, and seals us to show that we belong to God. God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice. (Book of Common Worship, p. 404)