When grit becomes grace

AnitaTebbenNuetzman
06/28/2011

When grit becomes grace

Jeff Bridges as "Rooster" Cogburn in "True Grit."

While Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn of "True Grit" probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind when you think of Jesus, as one precocious little boy pointed out during a recent children’s sermon, he could look like anyone, couldn’t he?

It’s not normally my goal to go looking for spiritual themes when I watch movies, but in the case of the 2010 version of "True Grit," just released on DVD, I could not help myself.

Right off the bat, the soundtrack plays "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" in the background and the voice of the adult Mattie Ross declares that "nothing in this life is free except for the grace of God." Does she speak from the perspective of one who has personally experienced that grace? I think she does.

In 14-year-old Mattie Ross’s quest to avenge the death of her father, she is intent on doing what is "right." She believes (that word doesn’t seem strong enough in her case) the murderer, Tom Chaney, must pay for what he has done.

Outraged that the local authorities are not doing the job to her satisfaction, she makes it her mission to see that justice is carried out. As others have pointed out, Mattie is all about law, and there probably aren’t many folks who would argue with her. If you kill someone, you’re going to have to at least suffer for it.

She enlists the help of Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, a marshal with a reputation for meanness and "true grit." Calling him Christ-like at this point would appear to be a huge stretch, but biblical stories are full of unlikely characters who are chosen to carry out God’s work.

At one point, Rooster’s grit seems to wear thin as he tries to convince Mattie that their endeavor is hopeless. As focused and determined as ever, she will have none of that.

Persistent grace

Eventually, just as she had hoped, Mattie is presented with the opportunity she’s been waiting for. In the act of exacting revenge, she falls into a deep hole in the ground that she cannot escape from. And in the pit with her are deadly snakes and human remains, no less. She is doomed unless someone comes by.

So who should appear at the opening, but Rooster? With the help of LeBoef, the trusty Texas Ranger, Mattie is brought up out of the pit of death, but she isn’t out of the woods yet. Bitten by one of the snakes, she is still in danger of dying from the effects of the venom.

In the remake, the most moving scene for me occurs shortly after the 1:37 mark. Rooster has taken Mattie on horseback in a ride for her life, desperate to get her to a doctor.

Utterly exhausted, the poor pony collapses, throwing them both to the ground. It is then that Rooster reaches down to take an incoherent Mattie into his arms.

In her delirium, she fights against him. Yet he persists, picking her up and carrying her on foot until they are within sight of the light of the trading post.

This is grace.

When we cannot come to him, Jesus comes to us. When we cannot call for him, he comes. When we can do nothing for ourselves, he comes. And yes, thanks be to God, even in our resistance, he comes.

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Originally posted June 14, 2011, at A Front View Pew. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Anita Nuetzman’s blog A Front Pew View at Lutheran Blogs.

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