A few thoughts have settled.

The scenes where Mendoza (Robert DeNiro) is carrying his armor through the jungle and finally up the side of the waterfall were difficult to watch.  I wanted someone to free him of his burden (like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress) and when Brother Fielding (Liam Neeson) finally does, Mendoza scornfully ties the burden back upon himself.  Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) has already told Brother Fielding that his burden would be removed only when Mendoza thought it was time.  Meaning: when Mendoza has felt that he has suffered enough for his sins, he would stop carrying his burden.


Does God expect us to do penance for our sins?  Making something right that we have wronged seems like an expectation that God has for us but do we really need to suffer a specific amount of time?  Does suffering for the sake of suffering prove beneficial to our spiritual walk?  Penance, in this form, seems man-made. 


God did not require Mendoza to carry the trappings of his former mercenary life for atonement.  Mendoza was forgiven when (or if) he asked for it.  Perhaps he never sought forgiveness but tried to atone for his sins by himself.  Atonement can not take place unless we seek God’s forgiveness, right?


Mendoza’s burden is finally lifted by one of the Indians who could have easily cut Mendoza’s throat without blame (humanly speaking).  But this interaction does not illustrate atonement, only forgiveness.  Perhaps some definitions would be helpful here.  By atonement, I mean, “to make whole”.  By forgiveness, I mean, “to cover over, be not offended”.  Only by seeking God’s atonement could Mendoza be made whole.  And the best that the Indian could offer him was non-offense.  Mercy as well as justice was given.  Mercy because the Indian did not kill Mendoza; justice because the Indian did not have the right to take Mendoza’s life.


The scenes are, nonetheless, very powerful.  I do not know what the Roland Joffe’s (Director) intent was for the scenes but it seems as if Mendoza is trying to earn his wholeness through suffering.  I have been guilty of doing the same thing, however.  Penance for sins may be a Catholic dogma but Protestants (myself included) have assumed it as well: “If only I do so-and-so or such-and-such, God will forgive me.”  From what I understand about God, he is able to forgive us even if we don’t do anything to make it right or self-punitive.



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6 responses to “

  1. Good thoughts. I think that scene is quite powerful. It may be that Father Gabriel believes he his forgiven but that Mendoza’s heart will not be changed by simply hearing words. If the atonement for sins was so deeply physical can forgiveness itself be deeply physical? I just think he needed his heart to accept forgiveness so that was the point of all of the “work”. The forgiveness was there but his heart was not ready for it.

  2. Interesting. I read that totally differently. The cutting of the burden, I thought, was powerful because it was a display of grace, and that by accepting the free and totally unearnable grace of the Indians, he was finally able to understand that God’s grace is free and unearnable. And the reason he carried his burden so long was precisely because he couldn’t understand grace. Coming from his strict mercenary background, he couldn’t fathom something for nothing. His awful sin was, to him, worth great unending pain. And within this self-constructed penitential framework, nothing short of what happened could free him in a way he could understand.

  3. OK.  I can see that and agree with you Erinn.  It is often that I have experienced God’s grace through the grace of others.  Just ask Hope or my dad.

  4. Anonymous

    I really needed to hear/read that today. Thank you!!!

  5. Anonymous

    Hmm, that definitely makes me want to see it.  Another interesting allegory in the Pilgrim’s Progress motif is Hinds Feet on High Places.  I found that about a year and a half ago, really enjoyed it.  There is lots to interpret, much like it sounds like this movie has.

  6. I was going to comment but joey and erinn pretty much said what I was going to say.. about his own heart not being quite ready to receive.. I like that Father Gabriel was able to perceive this.  I like the scene where the native cuts the rope and I don’t entirely understand it either, but I think it was just a last straw sort of thing for him in finally letting go.  I like that you mentioned Pilgrim’s Progress… writing research papers on that and its sequel were some of my favorite memories coursework-wise.

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