Bell Ringer for the Kingdom

nscaadpyggcahon6gdca65×7ofcarokl1zcaaupon4cahyt16acafwfxzzcak4qy48ca8e14udcam58j4bca0gscg2camip7b1cabzjq6jcadoqvupcaktyztccaskiu09caczqjwpca7tljq7ca2lqghb.jpgMy son’s high school reading has again provided an opportunity for God to reveal more about the nature of His Kingdom. Stefan was assigned The Hunchback of Notre Dame,  but I discovered the novel’s actual title to be Notre – Dame de Paris.  And that makes a kingdom of a difference.

As a person familiar with film versions of the novel, I expected a sweet melodramatic story about an outcast hunchback bell ringer named Ouasimodo. Instead, I found a profound and thrilling tragedy which examines the relationship between the Kingdom of God and His Church, a novel in which the church, not a bell ringer, is the main character.

Quasimodo was found in the cathedral as an infant on Whitsunday, the first Sunday after Easter and was given the first Latin words of the day’s liturgical reading – “Quasi modo.” as his name. The infant was adopted by the main “Christian” of the tale, the archdeacon of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo.

The action of the novel seems to be a dramatic commentary on the source for the lesson of that day, 1 Peter 2:

 “Therefore, rid yourselves  of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander  of every kind.

Hugo’s archdeacon hasn’t. And that fact drives the action of the story

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk,  so that by it you may grow up  in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 

The rejected and reviled baby does, but, like Goethe’s Faust,  Claude Frollo is consumed by a craving for the milk of the Present Evil Age – human knowledge and human flesh. He, and most of the people living in and around the great catedral are sinners, as defined by Tim Keller: people who make good things into ultimate things. They seek to “establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God.”

 As you come to him, the living Stone –rejected by men but chosen by God  and precious to him–you also, like living stones, are being built  into a spiritual house  to be a holy priesthood,  offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Notre Dame, the building of dead stones, is shown as the only spiritual home for those who have been rejected- Quasimodo and the gypsy, Esmeralda. Quasimodo , rather than Claude, is revealed to be the only living stone sacrificing self for the Kingdom of God.

 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,  and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,  “The stone the builders rejected  has become the capstone,  “  and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”   They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. 

Consumed by eros (Claude for Esmeralda and Esmeralda for Phoebus, the captain of the King’s Archers and the wrong sun/son)  rather than agape, Esmeralda and Claude die horrible deaths.

But you are a chosen people,  a royal priesthood,  a holy nation,  a people belonging to God,  that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God;  once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Though he dies, Quasimodo receives mercy as the true child of God and the obvious member of His Kingdom.

 This is the moral Hugo wants his readers to take:
 Dear friends,  I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world,  to abstain from sinful desires,  which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds  and glorify God  on the day he visits us.
 Quasimodo, even though a submissive servant to the evil Claude Frollo, lives a life of agape and follows Peter’s injunction:

 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority  instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong  and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will  that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men,  but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil;  live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers,  fear God, honor the king. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect,  not only to those who are good and considerate,  but also to those who are harsh.For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this  you were called,  because Christ suffered for you,  leaving you an example,  that you should follow in his steps.”He committed no sin,  and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him,  he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself  to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins  in his body on the tree,  so that we might die to sins  and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray,  but now you have returned to the Shepherd  and Overseer of your souls.”

Like the Church which began with Peter (the rock), Hugo’s story begins with the poet Pierre, the link among the characters in this magnificent story of  faith, failure, love, and redemption.

Eldon Ladd, like Hugo, reminds us that the Church is not the Kingdom: “The Kingdom of God means first of all the redemptive activity and rule of God working among men; and it is secondly the realm in which men experience the blessings of His rule.”

Hugo shows Quasimodo as the Kingdom’s redemptive agent, and Claude Frollo, the archdeacon, as merely the titular keeper of God’s official “realm” – Notre-Dame de Paris.

In the novel, as on the earth, it is the Kingdom of God, not the church of men, which  is the source of Christ’s redemption.

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