A Night Out with Ben-Hur (and Messala)

On a rather rare night out with my spouse, we threw caution to the wind and added a 9:30pm movie to the evening!  After a day of laundry that truly reached epic proportions, this was either going to be a fabulous indulgence, or a horrible mistake.  I kept thinking, this movie better be worth the loss of sleep!

I am of the generation who likely never saw the original Ben-Hur or even realized the epic film of 1959 was based on a book written in 1880.  Honestly, I had no idea what the film was about.  I had heard there was a Christian theme and that Jesus makes a couple of cameo appearances.  Also, apparently, there are horses and a chariot race.  So that about sums up my knowledge prior to the film.  I had a babysitter and that was all that counted; I was going to see a movie with my beloved!

After gagging my way through several previews on what seemed like ten zillion variations on the theme of all things zombie (seriously, what is that about), the movie began!  It was easy to be drawn into the rich scenes and the dynamic characters.  Early on, the film was able to communicate the deep affection between the main characters Judah Ben-Hur and his adopted brother Messala.

Jesus appears in key moments to challenge and guide young Judah Ben-Hur in his path from revenge to forgiveness.  The main plot is that Messala in his ambition betrays his adoptive family and his brother is sent to be a galley-slave for five years while his mother and sister nearly die as lepers in a prison.  Judah Ben-Hur miraculously returns and pursues vengeance in the deadly chariot race.  Having vanquished his brother Messala, he fails to experience the satisfaction and relief he expected.  Judah Ben-Hur once again encounters Jesus and witnesses Christ begging the Father to forgive those who crucified him.

This is where the movie gets interesting.  Yes, we all saw it coming, Judah forgives his brother Messala.  Yay!  Ok now let us take a closer look.  At the end of the movie, Judah finds Messala lying on a stretcher having lost a leg in the chariot race.  Messala threatens to kill Judah and rages against him.  Judah stands over Messala and showers over him love and forgiveness.

Who are we meant to identify with in this moment?  Judah Ben-Hur, right?  He is the protagonist.  He is the one who learns to forgive.  He is the one who was innocent and betrayed.  The movie is named after this guy, so he is the main character, right?  Well, yes, but . . . most of us are not the innocent and mostly virtuous Ben-Hur, we are at various times in our lives the unrepentant sinner, the one who betrayed those who loved us.  We are Messala.  

Like Messala, we are sometimes broken and abandoned in need of mercy and through Christ that mercy is freely given.  In the end, Judah Ben-Hur sought out Messala in order to bring him back into right relationship with him and in order to heal what was broken.

God pursues you with the greatest intensity.  No matter how broken you are, no matter how deep the sin and betrayal, He is waiting and yearning for you.  Like Messala we need to put down our swords and stop trying to prove we do not need this love.

Ben-Hur was worth the loss of sleep.


2 thoughts on “A Night Out with Ben-Hur (and Messala)

  1. I feel that Messala’s actions were fairly understandable in this version (as opposite to the previous version). He just seemed to be a victim of circumstance too. He asked his brother support and his brother’s compassion was what brought those events unto the household – not Messala’s. He was the one who was betrayed first, in his perspective. He couldn’t help him, that’s why he was so angry and bitter: because he saw his brother had one of the zealots in his house and they nearly murdered Pilate who he was tasked to protect. This in turn brought roman retribution to the family he also loved. Pilate would have judged them anyway, if Messala had spoken in his favor, he would have been seen as a traitor and sent away as galey slave or executed too.

    It was the story of two men, caught by the circumstances, who blamed each other for the misfortunes of a broken family (because Messala also loved them and wanted them back and felt that Judah’s actions killed them). Hatred drove them apart as Jesus said, when what made them strong and united was love. Love which still existed underneath their broken relationship.


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