“In the beginning was the Word…” (Seen through a clearer lens)
The year was 1967 and three films starring Sidney Poitier had come to the Big Screen; “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “To Sir with Love.” The cultures portrayed in the films could not be more different. One dealt with an aging upper class west coast family of privilege struggling to come to grips with racial diversity in an intimate way. Another addressed the deep rooted prejudice of the impoverished American south. The third film was set in a poor school district in the outskirts of London. It was the only one of the three to be filmed in black and white.
The story line in, “To Sir with Love” begins with Sidney Poitier having earned his engineering degree now seeking a job in his field. He sends out letters of application but must take a temporary job as a teacher in an impoverished local school to earn a living. He finds that trying to teach the jaded students through traditional methods impossible and so he tells them to put the books away and he will teach them about life. This act of nonconformity becomes the key to his success. At the end of the term he is recognized by the students whose lives he has touched. Overcome by emotion, he seeks the solitude of his empty classroom. Two young and unruly students burst into his private moment and comment that he will be their teacher next term. As they leave he realizes his true life calling. He reaches into his coat pocket and takes out the job offer from the engineering company and tears it in half as the film ends.
John’s gospel begins with the words, “In the beginning…” but we should realize that he has written them practically at the end of his life. John is no longer the young, adolescent follower who rested his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper. He has been the man standing at the foot of the cross to whom Jesus entrusts the care of his Mother, Mary. He will live in exile and look inside himself to become a conduit of the Holy Spirit as he writes prophetically, “The Revelation.” As he writes our passage he is looking back through the lens of his life to recognize the true nature of Christ. This man whom he followed was not just a charismatic leader and teacher. He was not just a healer or prophet. He wasn’t even the Christ figure that some had been waiting for to bring them political and religious freedom. He was the Word. He was with God in the beginning and always. He was the Creator. All things that exist came into being because of him. He was God. He is God!
John, like the character, “Sir” portrayed by Sidney Poitier has had the opportunity to live through a season of life and look back through a lens polished clearer by the experience. That allows him the necessary vision to see new and deeper truths within the Scriptures and in the institution of the church, even in his personal interactions with the people in his life. It cajoles us to take the painful step of discarding our preconceptions... of ourselves and of the larger world. It encourages us to embrace a new vision of the Creator and to recognize our calling to live our life as a reflection of that Grace. It is only then that we can then look back at our lives and recognize, “…the beginning.”