In the movie, The Mission, Robert De Niro plays the role of a slave trader-turned Jesuit priest. Practicing his trade among the Guarani Indians in South America, he is portrayed as a ruthless, cruel man. Personally, his life was falling apart and this culminated as he caught the love of his life, his fiancé, and his brother, whom he also loved deeply, in bed together. Enraged, he killed his brother in a duel.
Carrying his guilt to a Jesuit priest, he receives an act of penance to remove it. The priest prescribes that he drag his armor and weapons of war in a net behind him and go back into the South American jungle to serve and live among the Guarani…the tribe he at one time victimized by his slave trading.
Climbing the Iguazu Falls, Mendoza (the character played by DeNiro) drags his net through the mud and the underbrush to exhaustion. When they reach the top of the falls, the group encounters some warriors from the Guarani tribe. One of the warriors walks over to Mendoza, draws a long knife blade, and appears to be coming to slit the throat of this slave trader. Instead, the knife slices through the ropes that held the burden being dragged behind Mendoza, pushing the net over the cliff and setting him free. In relief and gratitude, Mendoza both weeps and laughs as the burden of his guilt is now gone.
The message portrayed in this moment in the film is powerful. As Mendoza seeks to enact his own penance and find forgiveness by his own exhausting efforts, he learns that forgiveness comes as a gift…not as the result of our own effort. We cannot earn our way into God’s favor…we must receive our access humbly as a gift given.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” -Romans 6:23
What do you need to be set free from today?