I’m a little late to the game but I’m really enjoying the show Better Call Saul. The primary plot follows a guy who goes from trying to be a good successful lawyer and a respectable member of society, into eventually accepting the fact that his very nature is sleezy so he embraces it.
I have always been curious about the journey notorious criminals have taken from an infant to an unapologetic bad guy. There are probably a number of routes: they were raised in that life, terrible things have hardened them or filled them with rage, they stop fighting their inclinations and just go all in, or they believe they are so far gone with no hope of justifying themselves.
I think we could do a similar drama series called, Better Call Matthew. Because at some point, Matthew must have decided to just be himself even if it meant being the public bad guy, the creep, the mobster etc.
Ironically his name means Gift or Gift of God. Someone purposely named him with great hope. A son only a mother could love, right? Who knows, maybe he started out ok. Maybe not. Maybe he came to a point where he thought – I’m hopeless so I might as well step fully on to the other side. Or, hey, this is me. I’m not good. I can’t be good. I’ve made one too many mistakes so I’m just going to embrace it.
Can you relate to this struggle?
At some point Matthew just joins the “other side”. He’s a tax collector and everyone knows it. It isn’t a secret sin. It’s out there and he doesn’t care. A tax collector isn’t the IRS. That’s not the sin by the way – though some of you think it is. Tax collectors were really hated by society. They were considered worse than the mean occupying roman soldiers.
Tax Collectors strong-armed people into paying. They engaged in all sorts of nefarious ways of getting money from people. They definitely over-charged and kept the top for themselves. They got rich off lying to people. And maybe worse – they were doing it for the foreign pagan invader – Caesar. They were traitors to their own people.
To be a tax collector you basically have to sign off your right to be a child of God. You can’t go to synagogue. You aren’t invited to the weddings. You hang with a bad crowd. Please don’t try to make them “misunderstood”. They were very well understood.
When Jesus comes across Matthew, he wasn’t having an existential crisis. He wasn’t attending AA and trying to clean up his life. He was in the middle of hurting his fellow Jews, stealing, bribing, threatening poor widows with jail etc. He didn’t care who knew it.
He wasn’t looking for Jesus, though Matthew probably knew about him. But Jesus was looking for him. No one is looking for Jesus. Jesus is looking for them! You weren’t looking for Jesus. Jesus found you as a baby or an adult.
Out of nowhere, Jesus spoke with same power that calmed the sea and everything changed for Matthew. Follow me.
But Jesus doesn’t leave Matthew and go on to the next loser. He never does that. He went to his house. Matthew says he came and others slime balls came too. From the dark parts of town. The people who sit in the shady booth at the bar. The drug dealer. The crooked lawyer. Those people – you know. Bad society. They have no names except by their public sin.
Apparently a lot of the leaders of good society – the speakers in the synagogue. The teachers of right and wrong. They found out about the supposed holy man who had a night out with the wrong crowd. They were puzzled.
In the show, Saul has a brother who is everything Saul is not. His brother gave up on Saul a long time ago and just calls him by his identity as a swindler. Saul’s brother probably understands himself as good and his brother impossibly bad. Like the Pharisees, his brother might not be outwardly and obviously as bad as Saul. He always says how he pursues justice. But he does his own swindling in more publicly accepted and legal ways. Saul’s righteous brother is an accepted creep.
Which brother are you?
Well, these righteous people asked Jesus’ disciples – why does your teacher hangout with public sinners?
Jesus hears about it and says, “the healthy don’t need a doctor. I came not to call the righteous but sinners”, public or not.
So who are you? Do you think you are healthy? Do you think you aren’t a sinner like that guy? What private sins are you hiding so you can masquerade as righteous. Are your sins more accepted by the world?
In the films Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, there is a fellow at the vacuum store who offers the only salvation available for these people – disappear. Get a new name. Go somewhere far away. He will make you clean and new. It’s only for people who are beyond help. They can’t change their lives. They can’t escape punishment. They can’t just get back to normal society. It’s either jail, public humiliation, or disappear. The vacuum salesman is only for the extremely desperate.
Jesus does it better than the vacuum guy. He does more than simply accept us and our sins. He forgives us. He finds us and wipes away our past and gives us a new identity as a saint! Total forgiveness. Through baptism, like the vacuum, he wipes away our sin. Through holy communion, He dines with even us! And Jesus doesn’t move us far away, but brings us to Himself and into another gang, His church.
Another Saul learned this on the road to Damascus. The thief on the cross learned this too. His name was mud. He was at the end of his rope with no way out. No one would remember his name well. He looks over and there was the only solution, Jesus. And without skipping a beat, Jesus says, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” You will be a new person.
Perhaps the story of “Better Call Saul,” is “Better call you!” Jesus has done exactly that.