Thursday, May 14, 2009


I had wanted to see the 1936 version of “Romeo and Juliet” for years even though I knew it would not match the Zeffirelli version of 1968. I finally saw it this week. In looking at the play again I saw a spiritual truth. The roots of tragedy are always in something small; the roots of grace have to be in something big.

If only Mercutio had been more patient he would not have fought Tybalt and been killed. If only Romeo had gone for the police instead of taking matters into his own hands he would not have killed Tybalt and thus been banished. If Friar Lawrence’s emissary had reached Romeo in Mantua there would have been no suicide. If Romeo had come to the tomb ten minutes later he’d have seen Juliet alive. If Juliet had woken up even three minutes earlier she could have prevented Romeo’s suicide. The play, as so many of Shakespeare’s, turns on these small short coincidences which lead to tragedy. Even though we may not experience so much woe, we are tempted to the same expressions of anger and impatience which lead to tragedy every day. Tragedy does not stop on a dime. In the play it took five deaths (Mercutio, Tybalt, Count Paris, Romeo, Juliet) to bring the tragedy of this play to its end.

Grace, too, is brought to an end by death, a single death. While not a suicide, it was a voluntary death. It was larger than the result of someone’s impatience. It was designed to draw off and satisfy the entire wrath of God against all sin for all time. Only the sacrifice of an entire blood supply, a body broken beyond recognition enabled us to receive grace. Jesus Himself told us that laying down the life is the greatest act of love anyone can express.

Tragedy or grace are the only two prospects we have to look forward to. Let us not be moved by small things, but stand on the solid one.

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