Fish and Fire: The Gospel and Casanova

Fish and Fire: The Gospel and Casanova January 23, 2006

This is the danger of spending so much time with one text—you start to see it everywhere you go. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for my sitting in the movie theatre Saturday watching Heath Ledger in Casanova and drawing parallels between the movie and Sunday’s gospel lesson, Mark 1:14-20.

Truth be told, without a little prompting I probably would have been content to just sit there and watch Heath Ledger. But it was really my friend Linda, with whom I saw the movie, who got me thinking. While we were rehashing the movie afterwards she reminded me of one line that sparked a few vaguely spiritual thoughts.

See, there’s a scene in the movie where Heath Ledger (who plays Giovanni Casanova—duh!) is giving advice to a young bumbling Casanova wannabe. This poor young guy’s heart pines for a young lady across the canal but she would never notice him; he’s too clumsy and uncool—not like the man every woman longs for, Casanova . . . dashing, romantic, handsome, smooth . . . .

The line Linda recited that stuck in my mind was Casanova’s advice to this poor guy, Giovanni Bruni (played wonderfully by Charlie Cox, I thought): “Be the flame, not the moth.”

Linda reminded me of this line and we talked about it for awhile. I kept thinking about Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples to turn in their fishing nets and come join Jesus in fishing for people.

The church has used and abused this idea of “fishing for men”—starting, of course, with continually using the male-exclusive language. Jesus certainly meant the disciples would be communicating a message to everyone—not just men. But this image of fishing has been distorted even beyond that. Fishing, in my mind (certainly reinforced by many Four Spiritual Laws Training Sessions and Sunday School classes in “witnessing strategies”), implies catching, hooking, tricking . . . killing, even. Yes, taken to extremes it can be a violent, dishonest strategy (ummmm, the Crusades . . . ?). And if you make direct parallels between this activity and our attempts to communicate our faith to others, well, what invariably happens is that one day we find ourselves with bullhorns on Bourbon Street shouting about sin and hell (not my favorite way to spend a day on Bourbon Street, I must confess).

Surely this is not what Jesus meant when he invited the disciples to come along and fish for people!

My theory is that Jesus was inviting those disciples to be who they were—fishermen—for the sake of the Gospel (in fact, that’s a good summary of Sunday’s sermon, which will be on the Calvary web site probably tomorrow). That is, to be the best they could be at what they knew and, in the process, invite people to join them. In other words, to be a flame radiating light and attracting those who are looking for a way to move out of the darkness.

I am not really all that sure that you could find overt allusions to the Gospel message in the movie Casanova. But the truth of the matter is that whenever you allow the text to squeeze its way into your heart you might find messages from God no matter where you are. For me, I’ll never think of Jesus calling his disciples again without that image of Heath Ledger admonishing . . . “Be the flame, not the moth.”

Hey! Does this great theatrical spiritual discovery mean that my movie ticket is a legitimate business expense? Next, a business trip to Bourbon Street!

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