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The Pity Of Bilbo

October 15, 2010

At the end of the chapter Riddles In The Dark from The Hobbit, we have a scene that sets up the fate of Middle Earth many, many years later. Bilbo has been secretly led by Gollum to the back door of the kingdom of the goblins. This happened because as he fled from Gollum in terror, when he realized Gollum intended to murder, his “magic” ring slipped on his finger, making him invisible. Gollum passed him by unknowingly, and continued down the tunnel, until he came to a low opening. Gollum was stooping right in the way of the opening, trapping Bilbo. At this point Bilbo concludes the since Gollum had intended to kill him, he should kill him instead, so he could escape. But then comes the internal conflict:

“Bilbo… was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped. No great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.”

In the Lord Of The Rings trilogy we find out that not only did Bilbo have a moment of empathy for Gollum, but that he began to suffer from the effects of carrying the One Ring, just as Gollum had. This same suffering was experienced by Isildur, and later was endured by Frodo, and even Sam Gamgee to a smaller extent. One spirit was at work, so to speak, in each case. Though the spirit of the Ring and it’s power was evil, nevertheless, it was a unifying factor between the lives of those I just mentioned. By having a participation with the Ring, they participated in one another’s lives as well.

I don’t know that this analogy is really going to work, but I would like to make a connection with a verse I read today out of the lectionary reading for the Orthodox Church. Speaking to the Colossians by his letter, St Paul says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

If any of you have the Orthodox Study Bible, you may have seen Morning and Evening Prayers in the very back of it. If you use it for your prayers (or even if you don’t, maybe you’ve noticed the set-up) you’ll notice that the pattern of the Morning Prayers has readings from the Psalms, then Epistle and Gospel from the Lectionary for that day, in between the Thanksgiving Prayers and the General Intercession. The verse above was from the Epistle reading for Thursday of this week, being the  Twenty-First Week After Pentecost.

So there I am before the icons in my prayer corner, reading these verses. I think I got to verse 27 before I snapped back to verse 24. “… what is LACKING in the afflictions of Christ…” WHAT?!?!?! You see, as with many Protestants, I was taught tat Christ suffered ALL, and that His suffering was complete, and fulfilled the justice required by God the Father for our sins. There is something of a connection with Christ when we suffer, like when people go through a common tragedy. Our sufferings bring us into something of a “I know what you’re going through” Club with our Savior. It’s a lot deeper than that (the Protestant explanation that is), but that is kind of the gist of it, as I understood it. Since His merits are all-sufficient, our suffering s really bring nothing to the table of our salvation, other than causing us to trust in God more, and hopefully draw us nearer to Him. But the verse above explains something on a whole other level.

After reading the verse to myself a few times, it suddenly hot me what Paul was saying. We are participants in Christ’s sufferings, here and now. When Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” (Galatians 2:20) and tells us, “Now you are the Body of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) it is also in connection with the words of the Apostle John in the vision of the end of the world, who, speaking of Christ, calls Him a “Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), we see the eternal interconnection between our suffering now, and His suffering.

Since His suffering was on an eternal scale (from the foundation of the world) the point in history where He suffered on the cross was just one aspect of it. Since we are His Body (the Church), when we suffer, He suffers so to speak. So in a sense, our suffering for His sake does complete His suffering. What an amazing thing that the Eternal, Limitless God would link Himself to mankind in such a way that we complete something of Himself. Not only that, but it means that we who are His Church complete one another. No wonder the author of Hebrew tells us, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” (13:3)

As I was doing my reading, all these things sort of hit my mind like a bolt of lightning, but it has taken me a few days to hash it all out. I love that this Orthodox Faith that we live is a true participation in the life of Christ. What’s more it is His participation in Us, and our participation with each other. O that this truth would sink deep into my soul and transform my into the image of Christ to those around me.

As a fireman/paramedic I have come to separate myself from the tragedies of others, because it part of the job. I have a job to do, and I cannot focus at the task at hand if I am caught up in the emotions of another’s suffering. I have been at this job a lot longer than I have been becoming Orthodox, so I have a bit of unlearning to do in this regards. While I would fall into depression if I allowed every emergency to emotionally effect me, one thing that I try to do: I finish take care of the emergency at hand, and then when it is over I make the sign of the Cross and simply pray, “Lord have mercy.” It is not an emotional attachment, but it is a lifting up of the person and their situation before the Lord. Bringing their cares before the Savior who suffers with us and us with Him.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew the Penitent permalink
    October 15, 2010 4:43 pm

    I have always wondered if these verses are translated correctly. Not having studied Koine Greek, I don’t know. I have no problem with them but I am curious about what an in-depth word study would reveal.

    P.S. Peter Jackson got the go ahead for the 2 HOBBIT movies. Filming to start in February 2011.

  2. October 15, 2010 5:16 pm

    Awesome! I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

    As far as the word study goes, I think it would be beneficial. I think another thing would be to read some of what the Church Father wrote on it, or like Chrysostom, gave homilies that were transcribed. Their interpretations would probably give a good insight into what they said.

  3. Sean permalink
    October 17, 2010 1:20 pm

    The phrase in question is, in Koine :
    “Νῦν χαίρω ἐν τοῖς παθήμασί μου ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνταναπληρῶ τὰ ὑστερήματα τῶν θλίψεων τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου ὑπὲρ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἡ ἐκκλησία”.

    I would say the translation is pretty much accurate. Of course there is never a perfect translation, because some words have different shades of meaning in different languages, but in general I’d say the phrase in english conveys the original without any noticeable distortion.

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