“Can I Do Less?” Thoughts on Another Memorable Scene from “The Robe”

Over the holidays, I watched “The Robe” again.  Despite all its 1950’s melodrama, or perhaps because of it, I find myself drawn to this film.  Previously, I shared the scene where Richard Burton’s Marcellus Gallio appears before the petulant, insane Caligula played by Jay Robinson.  It was a powerful scene as Marcellus stands his ground and refuses to renounce Jesus.

There were a number of other scenes that were also very powerful, but none more so than when Marcellus speaks with Peter, the big fisherman, played by Michael Rennie, who is better known for his role as the alien in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”  In that scene, both Peter and Marcellus confront their demons:

Peter: Let me tell you of the burden I bear. Justus told the others I was steadfast. He didn’t know. The night Jesus needed me most, I denied him… not once… but 3 times. I swore I never knew him. Now…

Marcellus Gallio: [stammering, pointing to himself] I… crucified him.

Peter: I know. Demetrius told me.

Marcellus Gallio: [shocked] And you can forgive me?

Peter: He forgave you from the cross. Can I do less? Now, is there anything stopping you? Can you become one of us?

Marcellus Gallio: [new strength in his voice] From this day forward, I am enlisted in His service. I offer Him my fortune, my sword, and my life. And this I pledge to you on my honor as a Roman.

Why is this fictional scene so powerful?  I think it’s because it speaks to a deep truth.  I believe there are people who feel that they are unworthy to be simply Christians due to their perceptions of their past or their own misconceptions of their worth.  Maybe they look for relief from some inner pain and suffering by turning to drugs, alcohol, and/or meaningless sex.  The harmful outlets they choose to treat their problems eventually come to define them.  Society, including the people who should be most compassionate, may look down on these broken people, thus reinforcing that negative self-image.  The negativity grows, and more relief is needed to deal with the hurt.  The cycle of self-loathing and self-medication continues to spiral out of control. 

In the film, Peter was not shocked by Marcellus’ confession.  The runaway slave, Demetrius had already told the whole story.  Demetrius, played by Victor Mature, had himself undergone a major transformation from the belligerent Greek captive in the slave market, once destined for the arena, to the devoted disciple who traveled with Peter.  In the film, he was taken to the brink of death in Caligula’s torture chamber, yet never recanted his faith.

Paul talked about the same kinds of things in I Corinthians 6.  After listing a catalog of sins—including drunkenness and sexual sins— Paul says, “11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

“12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.”

Granted, he is talking to people who were ostensibly already Christians.  But they were rationalizing their continued engagement in their pet practices by saying that they had liberty in Christ.  The key here, for Christian and non-Christian alike, is in that resolute statement, “I will not be dominated by anything.”

Jesus knew people.  He knew their hearts and he loved their souls.  Nowhere is that any more evident than in Matthew 11.28ff:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Here, although he is talking to a people burdened by the legalistic chains of rabbinic law, his words speak to anyone who is carrying any burden that hinders their freedom and makes them soul-weary.  His invitation is not only to those who are already righteous; his nail-scarred hand is extended for all who labor under any burdensome circumstance.

Like the fictional Marcellus, who thought he was unworthy and un-redeemable because of his involvement in that unjust execution, we may feel unworthy of redemption.  But like the cinematic Peter explained, “He forgave you from the cross.”  That is the heart and essence of grace.  It is not earned, but freely given as a gift. 

But like any gift, the benefit of grace is only realized by accepting it.  In the film, Peter continues, “Now, is there anything stopping you? Can you become one of us?”  Those questions are relevant to every broken person, regardless of their circumstance.  Jesus promises “rest for your souls.”  That’s a lot more than any chemical or meaningless relationship can do.      

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One Response to “Can I Do Less?” Thoughts on Another Memorable Scene from “The Robe”

  1. This is one of my favorite scenes in The Robe.

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