“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)
In the movie Angels with Dirty Faces, James Cagney plays a criminal gangster named William “Rocky” Sullivan who is admired by a bunch of young misfits and delinquents in the city.
He is eventually caught and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
But the night before he is scheduled to die he gets a visit by a priest named Jerry. They have a connection because Jerry was also his boyhood friend. Jerry wants to rescue all of Rocky’s young admirers from a life of crime. If Rocky dies looking like a hero, he argues, it’ll just make the problem worse.
This is what Jerry asks: “I want you to let them down. You see, you’ve been a hero to these kids, and hundreds of others, all through your life—and now you’re gonna be a glorified hero in death, and I want to prevent that, Rocky. They’ve got to despise your memory. They’ve got to be ashamed of you.”
To Rocky, it’s too much to ask. So no, he won’t do it.
But the next morning, something happens. As Rocky walks to his death he starts to cry out for help and mercy, blubbering like a baby, saying things like “I don’t want to die!” To all his young onlookers and admirers—who were expecting Rocky to be defiant to the end—their would-be hero now comes across like a weak coward.
As the executioner prepares to hit the switch, and as Rocky cries, the priest knows Rocky is sacrificing his reputation for the kids and looks up to God as if to say thank you.
Why do I tell you this?
Stories are powerful. They can help us see things in a new way. And not just things “out there,” but things within the chambers of our own hearts. I don’t minimize death. And I know your situation is different. But today it makes me think of this:
Sometimes you have to give up something that matters to you to get something great that matters to somebody else.
As it says in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
By Matthew Ruttan
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