The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Today we conclude our four-week series of sermons on the gospel in Disney. And this has not been the gospel according to Disney as I have reminded you each week, but the gospel according to Jesus Christ as it is seen or illustrated by the music and stories of these classic films. And what we’ve recognized is that any great work of art, any great work of theatre or film, any great story is great and it speaks and resonates with the hearts of people because it speaks to the human condition. And these four films we’ve chosen all speak to the human condition. And anytime we talk about the human condition in realistic terms we set up an opportunity to speak the gospel into it. Which is exactly what we’ve done. We’ve looked at these stories as though they were parables illustrating gospel themes. And then we go into the gospel after we look at each one of those themes.
So today we end this series by turning to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Hunchback was of course written by Victor Hugo in 1831. This along with Les Meseribles are his two most famous works. And he had this knack for speaking into the human condition and bringing religion, faith, and gospel themes to bear on everyday life in ways that touched people’s hearts. It was an instant success the year that it came out. It has been made into multiple movies over time. And finally in 1996 Disney created the Hunchback of Notre Dame as a part of its series in the modern golden era of Disney.
The film itself is the most Christian of all of Disney’s films. And it takes place in and around the cathedral. You have songs in it that are prayers. You see the themes of light and darkness. And clearly you see the church and the Christian faith captured in the midst of this in both its most negative sense and also in its most positive sense.
Now I just want to remind you that this story begins with a prologue. It is set in Paris in 1482 around the cathedral of Notre Dame. And the prologue starts 20 years before that when there is a man named Claude Frollo - he’s the antagonist in the entire story – when Frollo who is a judge and an archdeacon in the church is on a crusade to displace and actually force out of Paris all of the gypsies.
And as he’s doing this he’s about to make an arrest of a group of gypsies and there’s one woman who flees. She runs. She’s got something in her hands. And that something is a baby born with a birth defect.
Take a look at how the prologue unfolds.
So this is how the story begins. And then from the prologue the story moves forward 20 years. And now Quasimodo is 20 years old. He’s spent his entire life living in the bell tower at the cathedral. And Frollo who is this sinister character has in fact fulfilled what he promised. He has provided for the food and the clothing for Quasimodo. He’s acted as though he was the boy’s benefactor. And yet he’d come in to visit him and he’d tell him continually, “You’re a monster, Quasimodo. You are ugly. You don’t fit in the rest of the world. You can’t leave this place. You have to stay here. You are a monster, Quasimodo.”
And yet Quasimodo has grown up to be anything but a monster. As you watch the film you see he’s a man with a generous and sweet spirit. A kind heart and courageous – willing to stand up for others who are abused. And so the question is rightly asked, in the beginning and throughout the entire film, “Who is the monster and who is the man?” This is the question we’re meant to ask as we ponder this story and its connection to the gospel.
Now Frollo is an interesting character. He’s based upon, in the original Victor Hugo work; he’s based upon the Pharisees in the New Testament gospels. And you see this particularly in one of his prayers where he begins this prayer and you see his self-assessment of his own righteousness and holiness – despite the fact that he would destroy the gypsy people, despite the fact that he would harm and kill.
So let me just give you a short glimpse of what that looks like.
You see this, you watch this and you can’t help but think of the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector. And let me just remind you of it. We heard it earlier as it was read from Luke 18:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Frollo represents the worst in us as religious people. He represents what many of us as pastors can be like, where we’re so busy telling other people all of the things that are wrong in their lives we fail to see our own sin. And also what happens to some of us when we become religious people. And suddenly as we’ve given our lives to Christ we begin to pursue the right path all we can think of is all the things that other people are doing wrong. And this is what happens with the Pharisees in the New Testament. It’s why Jesus continually butted heads with them. And this is what he said to them in Matthew 23. He confronts them and says, “Woe unto you Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites…” Do you remember from a couple of weeks ago we learned the Greek word for hypocrite? It means a pretender or a play actor on a stage. He says, “You are like whitewashed tombs. On the outside you look beautiful and clean but on the inside you’re full of decay and rot and filth.” (Matthew 23:27)
He says, “Your masters of fulfilling the minutiae of the law. So that when it comes to giving a tenth of all you have, you even give a tenth of the herbs in your garden. And yet you forsake the weightier matters of the law – justice, righteousness and mercy.”
And so we have this picture of religion gone bad in Frollo. We have this picture again of somebody who perceives themselves to be quite religious, and in the name of their religion is doing awful and horrible things. And part of what we remember is we all have this same tendency inside of us. I do and you do. We all fight that monster. Sometimes we do ok and sometimes we fall off the wagon now and again. And the same is true for almost every believer.
Now when we look at these two then – Quasimodo, the kind Quasimodo and Frollo, it becomes apparent, who is the monster? And who is the man? The man is the one who is kind and righteous, caring and courageous; standing up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves. And the monster is the one who destroys in the name of his faith.
Now one of the tragic realities of the human condition is that all of us struggle with this same monster inside. Not just the tendency to be a Pharisee, but that tendency toward hurting, crushing, cruelly treating other people. There is this monster within. We find this: the biblical narrative tells us it starts really right after human beings were created. So Adam and Eve end up doing the very thing God asked them not to do, eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Shortly after that their children, Cain and Abel are in conflict – over religion of all things. And Cain kills his brother Abel.
Then 2 chapters later we find it’s the days of Noah and the earth is populated and the scripture says that human beings were perpetually violent – all the time they were violent towards one another.
And after the flood when God thinks perhaps we’ll give them a second chance the human race continues to go back to its old ways. And we find throughout the Old Testament that even the people of God heard God through the lens of their own violence and believed that God was calling them to commit genocide against other peoples in the region. All in the name of God – in the name of faith.
And so it continued to the New Testament period and all the way to the present time. The last century more human beings killed in war and violent acts than in the entirety of human civilization up to the last 100 years.
There’s a monster that lives inside of us.
Of course we know that this doesn’t just happen with individuals, it often happens with groups of people. So that there might be some that lead the way and they treat other people cruelly and then something begins to well up inside of us and we find ourselves cheering it on. Good church-going people finally get caught up in the violence themselves.
That’s exactly what happens in the next clip from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You find that Quasimodo finally leaves the bell tower so he can experience life. And he goes out for the Festival of Fools.
Now the Festival of Fools was an actual festival in medieval times. It happened every year. And it was a time when they parodied the church and the people parodied the political leaders, the rulers, the judges. And on this particular day they would elect the King of Fools.
Well Quasimodo goes out among the people and they choose him to be the King of Fools. But I want you to see what happens next when just a couple of people begin to incite cruelty and violence toward Quasimodo. What happens with the crowd?
A lesson was indeed learned there. But not the one Frollo had in mind.
This is what happens with this mob mentality. It happened with Jesus. You remember. The fickle crowd who five days earlier had shouted “Hosanna!” as Jesus road into Jerusalem, incited by the religious leaders shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
We think about that and say to ourselves, “That would never happen to me. I would never be a part of something like that.”
So I was thinking about this week experiences in my own childhood when as I was growing up the mob began to be cruel towards other children.
I remember in my neighborhood there was a boy that lived down the street from me. His name was Billy Pugh. Looking back now I know that Billy was slightly mentally handicapped. Billy always wanted to play with the rest of the neighborhood boys. And often he did.
But the one thing about Billy was that he would often wet his pants, even at 9, 10, or 11 years old. And I can remember the neighborhood boys purposely doing things to make Billy laugh. And it was when you got him laughing he would wet his pants. And when he did we would all stand around laughing at him. He thought we were laughing with him but we were really laughing at him. And there I was standing there and I didn’t stand up for him. I found myself caught up with everyone else and laughing. Why?
How did I think as a third or fourth-grader that was okay?
Of course it doesn’t stop when we’re children. We grow up and we find the same thing happens.
You know it only takes one person to stand up and say, “This is wrong,” to begin to move other people to realize something’s wrong. But if everybody stands around silent and then those who are caught up in the violence continue to practice what is hateful and cruel then terrible things happen.
I’m sure you have all heard the quote attributed to Edmund Burke which says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
In the film we find there was just one person who had the courage to stand up – her name is Esmeralda, and she’s a gypsy girl. And she watches what’s happening. And as she steps forward we catch a glimpse of the courage that she demonstrates here.
It just took one person to stand and be counted.
Scriptures say this. And this is a common theme throughout Scripture. What we find is that God is concerned for those who are pushed down and made to feel small and abused by other people. This comes up again and again and again in the Scriptures.
And we find these words in Proverbs 31:8-9:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. And it happens again and again and God says, “This is my will for you, that you stand up and speak out.
Listen one more thing about this monster within. You know that dark side is in all of us. There’s something twisted and not quite right there. And you either choose to give in to it or you choose not to give in to it.
And today, come on lets be real. This happens when somebody at work actually ends up having a better year or a better month than we do and we begin talking about them at the water cooler. We push people down and try to make them feel small to make ourselves feel better. Or the people we’re afraid of – the immigrants or the people who see things differently than we see them, and all the words that we speak to them. But you know somewhere along the way all it takes when there’s a crowd that’s beginning to do this is one person to say, “You know, I don’t think we should be saying that. I just don’t think that’s right.”
And what Esmeralda shows us is that while there’s a monster that lurks within each of us there’s also a hero or a heroine within each of us. You see we were made in the image of God and so there’s the possibility that we might actually stand up and say, “This is not right!” Or to stand with somebody else and walk with them. To be bold and courageous. We have the potential to be either one.
And so here’s the question I would ask you. Would you have the courage to be an Esmeralda? To break down the walls and the barriers that other people have erected. Or to stand with others in the face of discrimination? Because that’s part of what it looks like to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. That’s what Esmeralda was doing. And that’s a gospel charge.
Well who is the monster and who is the man?
One of the most powerful scenes in the film- and we’re going to now shift gears to something that’s not completely unrelated, but – one of the most powerful scenes in the film is one in which we find the faith of the people of the cathedral of Notre Dame set in direct contrast to the faith of Esmeralda. Esmeralda, the gypsy woman who stood up for Quasimodo has now claimed sanctuary in the church. So she’ll be arrested if she leaves and she’s praying and you hear the people of the congregation praying and I just want you to listen carefully. It’s the most beautiful and haunting song in the entire film – and our girls did an awesome job on it earlier – but I want you to hear it and see it again and listen carefully for the difference between the faith of the people in the church and the faith of Esmeralda.
A powerful scene. And you have this picture of the people, “Bless me, Lord. Bless me! Make me rich. Make me famous. Give me glory. Give me wealth. Give me the love I don’t deserve or cant posses from another person.”
And then there’s Esmeralda, “I’ll get by with what I have. Please bless the outcast and help my people who are in need.”
Now listen. There’s nothing wrong with praying for yourself. Jesus gives us permission to do that. He teaches us that we can pray for our daily bread. We pray for forgiveness. We pray for our own needs. The book of James tells us that “we have not because we ask not.” So it’s ok to pray for yourself. But if your prayer stops with praying for yourself, and that’s really your whole relationship with Jesus, you haven’t yet understood what it means to be a Christian.
Now one of the dark sides of our soul is narcissism. And there’s not a person in this room that doesn’t struggle with it in one way or another. And that narcissism, that self-love that sort of thinks the whole world revolves around us, when we give our lives to Christ and we become Christians we carry that with us. And that’s one of the things we have to be saved from. But sometimes we do not realize that. So suddenly we take our Christianity and it becomes another outlet for our narcissism.
So now my relationship with Jesus is all about me and Jesus and it doesn’t really matter about anybody else. It’s about how He makes me feel and how much He loves me. And then we forget that His love poured into our lives is about saving us from ourselves and then using us to be His hands and feet and voice in the world.
Of course have a personal relationship with Jesus. Be saved. All of those things are important. They are the starting point of the faith but not the ending point of the faith. For we’re called not only to allow God to love us and to love God, but to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
And so if your faith is really only about your personal relationship with Jesus and that’s as far as it goes you haven’t understood who Jesus is and what it means to be His follower.
And so Esmeralda prayed, “God help the outcast.” And we pray, “God use us to be a blessing to them.” We were blessed to be a blessing. And the call of God is always to not only to take in but to give back; to serve, to be His hands and feet and voice.
Now this becomes really clear if you’re serious about following Jesus, you read the gospels what you find is Jesus is always on the side of the underdog. He’s always the person who’s going out and finding the one in need – the outcast. So this is what’s frustrating to the religious people. Jesus associates with people that good religious people don’t associate with. And so there’s the prostitutes that come to Jesus and they weep at His feet. And there are the Samaritans that He turns into heroes. They were the gypsies of the first century – at least ethnically. Then there were the sinners and the tax collectors. And then among those that Jesus associated with were lepers. And lepers truly were the outcasts of the 1st century and in ancient times.
Lepers had a disease that afflicted the skin. We don’t exactly what the biblical leprosy but we have some idea. And it probably had a variety of manifestations, but leprosy was contagious so even the Bible proclaimed that the lepers were to stay outside of the community. They couldn’t live with the people. They had to live proverbially “in the bell tower.” And when they came into town they had to shout out – the Old Testament said they were to shout out, “Leper. Leper. Unclean…” and to announce themselves as they were walking by so that they could walk on the other side of the street. And these were the Quasimodo’s of their day.
And how did Jesus respond to the leper? He was a friend of the leper. And not only their friend but He actually touched the lepers.
Which is what we find in these words from Mark 1:
“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.” (Mark 1:40-42)
You remember Jesus – part of what I love about this passage is He reaches out and touches him. Jesus didn’t have to touch people to heal them. Remember there was a centurion servant and Jesus said, “Your servant is made well.” And his servant was a significant distance away. And immediately the man was made well. Jesus didn’t have to touch somebody to heal them. When he saw the leper who craved human touch, this outcast was touched by Jesus. And then he was made well.
Jesus goes among the tombs in the region of the Gearasenes and encounters the demoniac, a man who had been chained there and left among the tombs and people were terrified of him. And Jesus goes and He touches him and He makes him well. Jesus associates with the people who were outcasts, the people who were small and made to feel like nobodies by the religious establishment. And if that is what Jesus did then that’s what his followers must do. We are called to be His hands and feet and voice, to stand with those that no one else stands with.
The monster in the end was not Quasimodo. Quasimodo ends up being the hero in this story. He ends up showing remarkable courage and looks more like Christ than most of the other characters in the film. He is the man.
And the question we ask once more is are you the monster or are you the man? Will you have the boldness and the courage to stand with people; to stand up for people, to speak out for people, to go be the hands and feet and voice of Christ for people? Or will you stand by when others do that? Will you stand quietly while others harm? Will you be quiet so that no one thinks poorly of you? Or will you have the courage to stand up and speak out?
One of the things I am really proud of with you as a congregation, when I look at you and see the remarkable things that you do. And I know that in many ways I am preaching to the choir today. You get this already.
This summer, just as an example we’ve had 8 mission teams go on mission teams from the church since the beginning of the year. 8. I mean I remember when we only had 1 just 9 years ago. We have one more heading out this fall to Highlands to harvest the crops that were planted in DeShong’s Gift Back garden there. Many of you have served as prayer partners for our team participants.
On these trips you have given up a week of your life and gone to share the love of Christ in tangible ways with the people of Canton, Bennettsville, Highlands, Crisfield. And that effort has reached around the globe to the children of Jamaica, the Czech Republic, and through the work done at the Sager-Brown literally to all corners of the globe.
We had a local mission outreach weekend back in May where 30 of you gathered here and then went out to do several local mission projects.
Many of you have gathered and helped to pack over 100 backpacks each month with the local Backpack Buddies program. Many others of you have donated food or other items to make that possible.
I am excited that the final preparations are now underway to launch a Grace Ministries site right here at SUMC where on the second Saturday of every month we will open our hearts and our facility to reach out to our community as the hands, and feet, and voice of Jesus providing food and other essential personal items to those who are the least, the last and the lost in our community.
And of course our Amigos H/L Ministry that didn’t even exist 3 years ago and now is averaging nearly 30 people in attendance in their own weekly worship service.
These are the kinds of things you do all the time. But here’s the thing that’s 30 maybe 50% of us in this room. So I want to courage you. This is the dream I have when I look at this church and all of these people who have said “I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ,” – you know on an average Sunday there are about 350 of you that sit in this room – what happens every week when we send you back out into the world and you say, “You know what, I’m going to be one of those kinds of people who stands up and speaks out. I’m going to be one of those people who stands with people who other people make feel small. I’m going to be one of those people who’s working actively to care for and to love people who have nothing- who have no hope.”
And you know when we do that – Jesus had 12 that he did that with – and He changed the world. And there’s 350 people who will be here in worship today, and I’m thinking Sterling better be different and will be different if each of us walk out and say, “I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus Christ.”