Here’s what I learned this week. For one, it is difficult for me to resist an intriguing tangent when the internet dangles one so invitingly in front of me and secondly, that that is not always a bad thing, and thirdly, the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the movies that were made based on it are not just a simple, harmless little story, but something much more, and fourthly, the lessons that have normally spun out of the story are not the most important ones we should be getting, and fifthly,that I really need to read the book, and finally, that I will never watch the movies the same as I now see the characters, their lives and their choices as a parable that can help us to begin to recognize who we are in relationship to the Kingdom of God. In case you haven’t seen or read it, Willy Wonka runs a contest where 5 golden tickets are to be found in five chocolate bars randomly distributed around the world. Charlie manages to buy candy and eventually finds a golden ticket and his one grandfather, Grandpa Joe miraculously jumps out of bed and dances at the opportunity to accompany Charlie. On their tour they encounter four other children and their parents and we are presented with the moral failings and disastrous comeuppance of each until Charlie is the only one left. We then find out that Wonka has been employing a ruse all along to find a good hearted kid to bequeath his candy factory as Charlie passes the final test. Wish fulfilled, Charlie and his family get to go live behind the walls of the factory, have an income and an endless supply of chocolate. I Love watching both movies, and the older one is coming on TV the day this video is being released, Sunday, October 18th, and I have the DVR set to record it, however, there are certain aspects, actions and behaviors that have given me a weird feeling all the way back to my childhood. Something always didn’t seem quite right. I’m not quite sure how or where the link popped up in my studies. I don’t remember what I was searching for or where I was looking. I just remember that there was an aspect of the Gospel that was really sticking out to me. I had looked at pictures of ancient Roman coins, learned about the inscriptions on them, who the Herodians were, and that a Denarius (a Roman coin) was named that because it was the equivalent to the cost of ten donkeys. None of the avenues I was pursuing were really getting at the crux of the Gospel for me, but there was the lingering central point in my mind that I was trying to flesh out the meaning of for myself in order to gain some insight on it’s meaning and how I could hopefully, meaningfully share it with you. That’s when a search for something had a link to a subreddit on the App Reddit caught my eye. I didn’t think it had anything to do with what I was searching for, but let’s face it, I couldn’t resist. The subreddit topic, (that is essentially a discussion group), exists where people express their dislike for the Uncle Joe character in the book and movies about Charlie and the Chocolate factory. I had no idea!! And why don’t they like him? Is this just one of those sort of internet joke things or is this for real. Well, of course I had to find out. As it turns out, there is not only a subreddit but also a Facebook page dedicated to the same thing and it’s not a new thing but has been going on ever since the book was published in the early 60’s, back then in editorials and angry letters. The complaint is that the “bratty” children come off as villains yet Uncle Joe hasn’t set foot out of the bed in twenty years because the floor is too cold. When Charlie’s mom asks how Charlie came by a loaf of bread he snaps, “What difference does it make where he got it? Point is, he got it!” Grandpa Joe Gets Out Of Bed and sings and dances The second a good deal emerges and refers to it as his golden ticket and brags about his luck. Once out of bed he puts the preparations for the day off onto Charlie’s mom. On the tour he derides the other children for their moral compasses and proclaims them nitwits and in need of a kick in the pants, all the while encouraging Charlie to break the rules, almost gets him killed and when ultimately caught he vows revenge and tries to lead Charlie down that path. Then when the happy ending arrives and Wonka gives Charlie the factory, Joe immediately asks, “What about me.” But in reality, “innocent” Charlie has his shortcomings also. Nicole Dieker writes in an article for the online site, Billfold concerning Charlie and his adventure, “Here’s what kids are supposed to take away from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Greedy, bratty little kids (who are middle class or rich) annoy everyone around them and eventually get trapped in candy-related torture devices. Kind, obedient, good children (who are nobly poor) charm adults into giving them factories. Or, the simplified version: goodness gets rewarded and greed gets punished. But do you know what? The only reason Charlie even goes to the Chocolate Factory is because he is greedy. Read it yourself. Charlie’s seven-person family is literally starving when Charlie finds a dollar in the street…immediately goes and spends a dime on a Wonka bar just so he can get some food in his stomach. We can forgive Charlie that. But here’s what happens next: Charlie went on wolfing the candy. He couldn’t stop. And in less than half a minute, the whole thing had disappeared down his throat. He reached out a hand to take the change. The coins were all dimes. Surely it wouldn’t matter if he spent just one more… Charlie buys a second candy bar. He planned to bring that money back to his family so they could all eat, but he chooses to feed himself—and on a product that’s hugely overpriced compared to what he could have bought, food-wise. Charlie’s greed gets him that Golden Ticket. Then there’s Wonka who has devised this moral test for an heir. We find that he had fired all of his employees to bring in the Oompa Loompas to be hidden away from the eyes of humanity in a factory to work for Cocoa beans. In a book about morals, there is no moral high ground. It seeks to point out with flashing obvious neon signs the behaviors of the four, “nasty, naughty children” and their sins that fit snugly into the famous “Seven deadly” categories on a cosmic scoreboard. The Gospel connection for me though, is in a wrapping up quote by Dieker, “You can read these four children as greedy little brat-monsters, or you can read them as people—and I’m not sure we encourage children to make the latter choice.” There are more than enough moral failings to go around for the characters in this book. All of them. And we find the cosmic scoreboard to be as fictional as the magical factory. We tend to get caught up in trying to separate the good from the bad but Romans 3 reminds us, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” and that brings us to the Good News of that Denarius that Jesus held in his hands. He inspected it and asked the rhetorical question, “Whose image is this on the coin?” And they replied that it was Caesar’s. He then told them to give Caesar what belonged to him and to give God what belonged to God. This use of the word image and the idea of what belongs to God set off alarm bells and points back to the very first chapters of Genesis, back to the very beginning, where we are told that God created humankind in God’s image. Jesus was not giving them a me versus you answer or a Caesar versus Jesus answer, he was pointing to our shared humanity and relationship to one another as Children of God. All who bear the image of God, belong to God, the Caesar’s, the Pharisees, the disciples, the Herodians, the rejected Wonka kids, their parents, Wonka, Uncle Joe and Charlie himself, those we think are good and those we claim as enemies or evil-doers, or lower on the scoreboard, me, you and everyone else throughout the world. We all belong to God. We have to be careful to not focus on our sin for long without also focusing on God’s grace and our God-given dignity. For the apostle Paul, the depth of sin leads to rejoicing in God’s grace: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle. . . But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” Unlike Charlie’s story our lives are not fiction and wish fulfillment and everything becoming awesome for us is not a simple formula of being a good boy girl and we will get the factory or forgetting your manners gets you flushed. What Jesus wants for us is to realize how connected we are as God’s family and to love and respect one another. Jesus said back on the sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. It’s not about thinking that bad things happen to us because we’ve been bad or good because we’re good. It’s not about walking the tightrope of goodness to earn the candy and the factory, because we aren’t living in a make believe novel. It’s about living out being created in the image of God and loving and respecting everyone else that is created in the exact same way.