I have never watched the entire 2005 movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. But, I have watched one scene many times.
That scene features actors Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, and Levon Helm. Mr. Helm was the drummer in the rock group, The Band.
In this scene, Mr. Helm portrays a blind man who lives alone in a frail house in the borderland between Texas and Mexico.
Mr. Jones is fulfilling a promise. He is carrying by horseback the body of his friend, Melquiades Estrada, to properly bury him in a Mexican village.
Mr. Pepper portrays the United States border guard who shot Mr. Estrada.
They stop at Mr. Helm’s home to ask for water for the three horses. Mr. Helm has no qualms about providing the requested water, and he even extends the hospitality by providing the strangers a meal.
At the kitchen table, Mr. Helm serves the food. Then, he extends his two hands across the table for Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper.
He says, “let us pray.”
Awkward silence and hesitancy capture Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper. Uncomfortable seconds pass until Mr. Jones extends his hands to Mr. Helm and Mr. Pepper.
Curious about how Mr. Helm lives and survives in such harsh conditions, Mr. Jones asked a few questions.
We learn that Mr. Helm has some food stashed away. His son usually comes to visit him once a month to bring supplies, but he hasn’t seen his son in six months.
After the meal, Jones and Pepper collect the three horses, and prepare to depart.
Mr. Jones thanks Mr. Helm, and then Mr. Helm asks Mr. Jones for a favor.
Mr. Jones replies with “anything you want.”
Mr. Jones clearly does not anticipate Mr. Helm’s heart wrenching question: “I wanted to ask you, if you could shoot me?”
A quiet, astonishment takes over the scene. Mr. Pepper instantly looks at Mr. Jones awaiting his response.
Mr. Helm explains his rationale.
His son isn’t coming back—he has cancer. Mr. Helm does not want to leave his home, and most importantly in his mind, he does not want to offend God by taking his own life.
After a few seconds of reflection, Mr. Jones responds that he can’t shoot Mr. Helm, and makes the point that he does not want to offend God either.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper ride off with Mr. Helm still requesting that he be shot.
That scene makes me think of my own so called life as a Christian. I wonder how many times have I offended God?
In my mind, I reason that I have offended God quite a bit.
My brain will not let me forget the imperfections of my flawed judgment.
I curse my God who created the agitated yellow jacket that stung me while working on our church grounds.
I’m highly critical of others without considering my own shortcomings.
I silently swear at any driver who runs a yield or stop sign, or a stoplight.
There are days when my impure heart, mind, and soul feel like the devil is a half step behind me.
I wrestle with the inability of the church to see that the redundancy of its long worn templates might not work anymore.
I have let the current division in America make me a judge. I struggle to understand how insightful friends who were made by the same God that made me can’t see what I see in this division.
I ask why are they so blinded? How can their reasoning be so impaired?
Why have I lost my capacity to communicate with them? Is it because I have lost my ability to listen without judging?
Perhaps, they see me in the same way. Maybe, they ask the same internal questions about me?
In our division is fear the fuel that divides us? Is fear what drives the faulty logic founded in misinformation?
Yes, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a Hollywood script, but a raw honesty comes from the blind man portrayed by Levon Helm.
Perhaps, he should fear the two strangers. He doesn’t.
Mr. Helm provides heartfelt hospitality without knowing anything about their circumstances.
He extends his hands at the dinner table to offer prayer to the strangers. Something inside their troubled hearts makes them take Mr. Helm’s hands.
And that makes me ask myself, why can’t I extend my hands to those with whom I disagree?
Pitiful Christian that I am, will I continue to offend God?
Where is my commitment for these words from 1 Peter 3:8: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”
When will my stubborn heart wake up?