It says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (John 14:17), and it is a beautiful mystery that He often helps us encounter Jesus in so many places we would never think to look or expect to find Him.
Recently I watched for the first time the 2007 film The Kite Runner, based on the bestselling book by Khaled Hosseini from 2003.
It focuses on the friendship between two boys – privileged Amir and poor Hassan – and is set against the background of Afghanistan under the rule of the monarchy in the 1970s, then Soviet Russia, and finally the Taliban.
Exploring themes of innocence, sacrifice and redemption, the story unfolds in a Muslim context, so I doubt very much that the author or producers ever intended the film to make any reference to Christ. Yet for me, He was unmistakeably present.
The servant boy
I was profoundly struck by the Christ-like portrayal of Hassan, the servant boy, who willingly endures great suffering for the sake of his well-to-do friend.
It begins early in the film, when we see the brave little Hassan choosing to protect the weaker, fearful Amir from neighbourhood bullies, the same persecutors who mock Hassan as being of inferior race.
Then, the movie’s pivotal scenes, Kabul’s kite-flying competition which Amir so desperately wants to win in order to gain his father’s approval, show Hassan refusing to hand over to the bullies the winning kite he has fetched for Amir.
His loyalty costs him dearly – he is subjected to a brutal, physical and sexual assault by the leader of the gang, a vicious sociopath. And this while Amir hides in the shadows, too afraid to stop the attack, and unwilling to risk losing the love and admiration of his father that failure to bring home the winning kite will mean.
He is riddled with guilt and feelings of unworthiness, contrasted strongly with Hassan’s sacrificial goodness, and in a fit of rage strikes his friend with ripe pomegranates, the crushed, blood-red flesh staining Hassan’s clothes. In an unmistakeable moment, Hassan picks up the fruit to crush it against his own forehead, willingly accepting the punishment that should have fallen on Amir.
Amir’s actions have profound consequences. The depth of his guilt and Hassan’s love eventually lead to Hassan accepting his friend’s false accusation that he is a thief, and he and his father must leave their home and employment out of shame. Ultimately, Hassan’s faithfulness to Amir’s family results in his death many years later.
It is a supreme act of sacrifice, where the Jesus-like figure – a humble, scorned boy – lays down everything for the sake of the friend that has betrayed him.
The Kite Runner is a profoundly moving story, but it was made all the richer for me by the presence of Jesus… in such an unexpected place.
Have you met Jesus in an unexpected place recently? How did it make you feel?