God Can Use Our Sins…

One night, Chris and I sat down to watch a movie together. Chris was in the mood for something epic, and since he had received a blu-ray copy of Gladiator for his birthday, we decided to watch that.

The film was released back in 2000 (holy moly… has it really been almost 20 years??) and won multiple Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor. Chris and I had both seen it many times before, but it had been almost 8-10 years since either of us had last watched it.

A Brief Overview

If you’ve never seen the movie, this is your official warning that this post contains all the spoilers. If you’re familiar with the plot, go ahead and skip to the next section.

Maximus Decimus Meridius (portrayed by Russell Crowe), a General of the Roman Army is the protagonist. He is beloved by his Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and his soldiers. Knowing he is growing older and must name his replacement, the Emperor tells Maximus that his own son, Commodus, is corrupt, power-hungry and thus unfit to rule. He desires that after his own death, he wants Maximus to continue serving him by acting as regent until the Senate is strong enough to rule Rome. Maximus reluctantly agrees out of duty; his true desire is to return home to his wife and son in Spain.

When Commodus hears the news from his father, he murders him. No one except for Maximus and Commodus knew of the Emperor’s desire for the future of Rome. When Maximus –knowing what Commodus has done– refuses to acknowledge the power of the new Emperor, Commodus orders the royal guards to drive deep into the forest and execute him. Unfortunately for them, Maximus is a better soldier than all the guards that are on the job. He’s able to kill them all and escape — trying to reach his home to defend his family whom Commodus has ordered to be killed. Sadly, Maximus is unsuccessful. He returns home to find his family murdered and his house burned. He buries his loved ones before collapsing on their graves in grief and utter exhaustion (perhaps he even hopes to die there and join them in the afterlife).

As luck would have it, Maximus is picked up and nursed back to health by some slave traders. They sell him to a rich man named Proximo who trains gladiators. Though Maximus originally has no desire to fight, he changes his mind when Proximo tells him that it is possible continued victories could result in an audience with the Emperor. Since Maximus wants to face Commodus again, he fights his way to the top, eventually catching the eye of Rome’s ruler (although Commodus has no idea who “The Spaniard” — as Maximus has come to be called– actually is). When Maximus reveals his true identity to the Emperor, it’s in front of a large crowd within the Colosseum. Commodus can’t kill him because of his popularity among his subjects, and thus is tortured by fear and anxiety.

An old servant of Maximus also happens to be in the crowd. He makes contact with his master afterwards, and with the help of a senator and the princess, they devise a plan to help Maximus escape, gather his army, march on Rome and remove Commodus from power. Then, to everyone’s dismay, the plan is foiled as Commodus hears about everything.

Maximus is thrown back into prison. Commodus schedules a one-on-one battle in the Colosseum for the both of them. However, before the fight, Commodus stabs Maximus (who is chained to the prison wall) and has his armor placed in such a way that it conceals the wound. When the two men go out into the arena to fight, Maximus is weak. Yet, with the strength that comes from true virtue, Maximus is able to defeat Commodus and hand Rome over to the Senate, just as Marcus Aurelius had wanted, before dying himself.

An Unexpected Pivotal Player

There is a minor character in the movie whose name is Quintas. I believe he is the captain of the royal guard. Though he is most likely aware that Commodus murdered his father, he does nothing about it. In fact, he swears his allegiance to the new Emperor, arrests Maximus, and sends his men out into the woods to carry out the Emperor’s orders.

In the scene depicting the arrest, Maximus is caught off-guard by Quintas’ loyalty (or lack thereof) as he asks him, “Why are you armed Quintas?” before a look of shock crosses his face as the rest of guards tie his hands behind his back. As he is being led away, Maximus asks his friend to look after his wife and child; Quintas responds without feeling, telling this fallen Roman General that his family will meet him in the afterlife.

Throughout the rest of the movie, Quintas is usually always near the Emperor. He’s actually in the arena next to Commodus when they discover that “The Spaniard” is in fact Maximus — whom they thought they had killed. It is also Quintas who straps Maximus’ armor to him after Commodus stabs him in prison.

In the final battle, the weak Maximus is still a better fighter than Commodus. Commodus even had the arena rigged in a couple of different ways, but Maximus was still able to gain the upper hand and eventually disarmed his foe. Terrified, Commodus asks Quintas (who is nearby, as always) to give him his sword. Quintas doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even move. Commodus than shouts at the rest of the guards, “Somebody give me a sword!” They all reach for their weapons, only to freeze as Quintas orders them to sheath their swords. Because no one helps Commodus, Maximus is able to defeat him, freeing Rome from corruption once and for all.

Fresh Eyes

It is Quintas’ story that spoke the loudest to me during this particular viewing. I found myself wondering, if it had been anyone else serving as the captain of the royal guard, would Commodus have been given a sword during that last battle?

…I think yes.

If Quintas had not faulted at the beginning of the movie, Maximus’ ending would have looked much different. Any other captain would have obeyed the orders of the Emperor. He would not have denied him a sword! But because of everything Quintas knows about Commodus, he is finally sickened by all the corruption and realizes that he cannot serve this man. It may have taken him months, but Quintas’ conscience finally got the best of him. He said “yes” to the moral good, and in doing so saved Maximus and helped to better Rome.

This made me think of my own life and all my mistakes, sins and failures. I thought of the way God has healed and transformed me in such a way that those instances can now be used (and often are) to help others. Just as Quintas’ remorse and redemptive acts lead to the freedom of Rome, my own experiences in breaking free of the chains of past sins — even if it took me awhile to let them go — have helped and encouraged others to do the same.

I do not mean to imply that because God can use sin for good, we should all go about sinning and making mistakes. Instead, I mean this as a message of hope, healing, and mercy. No matter when we decided to turn away from our sin, God can redeem us and our actions.

That is certainly an undeserved grace.

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