Red Dead Redemption 2 is a notable release for a huge amount of reasons, but one of the most well-known reasons may be the sheer amount of WAITING that fans have been enduring as the title slipped from one release window to another and finally to an entirely different calendar year before finally gracing us with its presence. A delay of that magnitude gives this title a lot to live up to, and only time will tell if it delivers on all of the promises made so long ago. Now as a disclaimer, this title is not my particular cup of tea and I am making no statements in regards to the appropriateness of its content for you or those you game with. So this is less about the game and it’s gameplay and more about the central conceit of this story… the idea of what we do with the “irredeemable”, the “fallen”, and the “failed” among us. Despicable people with a desire to change their trajectory in life is not only the story at the core of this game, but this is the world that surrounds us each and every day.
A few toes dipped into this pool quickly reveals the temperature of the water… cold to the touch. Which is ironic considering that many of our favorite “heroic” characters in gaming and cinema are what we would have to label as “works in progress”, and that’s if we are being polite. I mean seriously… Iron Man is an egotistical, self-absorbed billionaire who made his money off of supplying arms to shady organizations. Batman is a self-appointed vigilante who breaks any laws that get in his way in order to impose martial law as he sees fit. The Guardians of the Galaxy are rogue smugglers and thieves with criminal backgrounds a mile long. Kratos from God of War or maybe even Solid Snake from Metal Gear? Don’t even get me started. Those guys have ISSUES. But in each of these stories we find people who have been chosen to do something bigger, something world or maybe even galaxy altering… in spite of their backgrounds, their track records, and their need for a path to redemption.
The irony is that we love to inhabit these people in our games or watch their hero’s journey over and over again on the big screen… but in the real world we don’t seem to know what to do with those in need of a second, third, or maybe even hundredth chance. We love our “outlaw with a heart of gold” in CONCEPT, but in actuality we seem to have no place for them in society. And the truth is every single one of us is in need of redemption… and while we love to receive it we don’t always know what it looks like to GIVE it. How do we give someone a chance to be something more while reconciling the missteps that they have taken? And fortunately there is an answer… not in Marvel comics or in RockStar’s next magnum opus… but in the book of Luke.
You may think you are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus. The short little tax collector who climbed the tree to see Jesus. But I want to walk in his tiny shoes for just a few moments as we consider the response of Jesus to a man who was considered a plague to his fellow citizens. I will spare the long history lesson and simply say that the position of tax collector in that era was even worse than how we look at the IRS now. Tax collectors were considered so low that the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” is found multiple times in the Bible because they were considered equivalent insults. Tax collectors were considered betrayers of their own countrymen… gathering taxes for the hated Roman Empire, choosing to work for the oppressors who had conquered the world and provide them with the funds to ensure they stay in power for a long time.
As a result of becoming the outcasts of society, tax collectors went rogue. They could charge a higher amount of taxes from the citizens without consequence and would pocket these funds for their own benefit. As a result, tax collectors became wealthy but hated individuals and had no real place in their own society. Caught between a rock and a hard place, we find a tax collector named Zacchaeus who has heard about the man Jesus passing through town and is eager to catch a glimpse of Him. We don’t know what has placed this in his heart… all we know is that as Jesus is passing by Zacchaeus is desperate to see him.
Luke 19:1-10 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
I hope you caught all of that, but if not let’s sum it up. Jesus didn’t find Zacchaeus and tell him that he needed to make some major changes in his life before he would grace him with His presence. No, He simply went to his house and in the presence of an opportunity for redemption ol’ Zach made the decision to change his life and offered what he had without asking anything in return. He received grace freely and in return he showed it to others. And in our modern society that is so quick to demand the complete destruction of people’s lives for their mistakes, I think there is a powerful message here.
So often it seems we feel the need to act as judge, jury and executioner in people’s lives while wanting to fall on God’s grace for our own failings. You don’t have to look much farther than your most recent social media feed to see us descend upon those who have committed any variety of indiscretions being EVISCERATED by the public… including those who may have committed those very same offenses but are either less famous or simply committed their sins on a much less visible stage. But Jesus clearly demonstrated that as we offer grace we will see those who have fallen rise beyond even our highest expectations of them and benefit others in return.
The bottom line is we have the opportunity to offer grace or a sword to those we have deemed to be “outlaws”… and how we respond to these opportunities has far-reaching implications for them as well as for us. We were given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), not the license to determine who is worthy of the opportunity to try again. We would all do well to remember the words of Jesus Himself when considering how we respond to the opportunities for redemption that surround us…
Matthew 7:1-2: Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.