As I was driving to work this morning, in my typical deep thought on the roadways, I decided it’s time over the next few weeks to enjoy a Tom Hanks movie marathon. I’m no film critic, but I consider him the greatest actor of my generation. The man can become anybody and convince you he’s the real thing: an AIDs victim in Philadelphia, an overgrown kid in Big, astronaut James Lovell in Apollo 13, a hit-man with a moral compass in Road to Perdition, a prison guard in The Green Mile, a mentally challenged man in Forrest Gump, a stranded Fed-Ex employee in Castaway, a record producer in That Thing You Do, a lonely single dad in Sleepless in Seattle. And that’s just scratching the surface. But the one I plan on watching this Memorial Day weekend as we all consider the price of freedom is Saving Private Ryan. Hanks plays the role of Captain John Miller.
The film brings home the costly price of freedom to every post-World War II American who sees it. The first twenty minutes of the film take the viewer to the beaches of
among fierce combat footage so realistic that the viewer starts looking for
cover himself. It’s hard to look
at. It’s hard to behold. It’s hard to imagine the sheer terror of the
men who joined that battle. A friend of
mine who was in the second wave of landing at Normandy watched the film and was
stricken with tremors and sleeplessness for three days afterward. It’s frightening footage. Yet such courage, such sacrifice is
And the sacrifice didn’t end at Normandy. In the film, Captain John Miller is ordered to take a small squad of soldiers and find a certain Private James Ryan. Two of Ryan’s three brothers were killed in the D-Day assault, and his other brother had been killed in
New Guinea. In the wake of such news and in pity for the
Ryan’s bereaved and broken mother, the powers that be were not about to let the
last Ryan get killed too. So Miller and
his squad are sent on a search and rescue mission: find Ryan somewhere in
France and get him out of there a.s.a.p.
That’s an odd mission when you think about it—risk the lives of many to save just one. And while the soldiers question the mission, while they wonder why Ryan’s life should be deemed more important than their own, they do their duty and carry out the mission. And it is a costly mission too. In that curious wartime mixture of courage and cowardice, monotony and irony, they do their best to do their duty to get Ryan safely home.
It’s a powerful film. As the film ended in the theater where I saw it, I heard muffled cries and sniffling all around the room. People moved slowly from their seats and filed out of the theatre with barely a word. I’d never seen anything quite like that at a movie before. I left the film with a deeper appreciation for my freedom and a profound appreciation for those who have paid the price to secure it.
Some suggested the plot of the film was unrealistic, but the film still moves me every time I watch it. The courage, the sacrifice, and the commitment of a group of men to risk their lives for the life of just one other soldier they didn’t even know, moves me. And that’s the story of Saving Private Ryan. It’s a story about the price of freedom.
And it reminds me of a Bible story concerning the price of freedom too. Only this plot is an about-face from Saving Private Ryan. This plot is about how one man died to save the many. Old Caiaphas, an enemy of Jesus, prophesied as much even though he didn’t have a clue about what he was saying. Afraid of further Roman intrusion upon their freedoms, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Jesus. Because of the way the common people took to Jesus, the leaders feared rebellion and riot and Roman retaliation if Jesus had his way. So Caiaphas told his cronies, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (Jn. 11:50). Caiaphas was speaking in the political sense. He didn’t know he was also speaking spiritual truth—a truth Jesus would affirm when He told His disciples, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). In Saving Private Ryan, the many die for the one. In Saving You and Me, the one—Jesus—dies for the many. He dies to save us, and in saving us, He sets us free—free from the power and penalty of sin, free from joy-stealing guilt, free from hell, and free for the life that is really life. As Jesus said, “When the Son makes you free, you are free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
So during this Memorial weekend, I'll be watching Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, and remembering the many who died to keep America free. But I'm going to be worshiping Jesus and remembering the one who died on the cross and rose from the grave to save my soul and set me free forever.