Today, we want to look at a sidekick. Now, let’s be honest, there are sidekicks and there are sidekicks, and we have no time for anyone in that first category. We want to talk about someone who would be right at home with the great sidekicks of all time. And how do you know if a sidekick is worthy of such honor? Easy! You don’t even have to mention their name. All you need is a list of the heroes, and their name is right there. For instance, who is the sidekick for each of these ten heroes (hint: two of the sidekicks in this list are women!)? We have (1) Han Solo, (2) Sherlock Holmes, (3) Johnny Carson, (4) Fred Flintstone and (5) Harry Potter. That ends round one. Take a breath. Okay, here’s round two. We have (6) Wallace, (7) Don Quixote, (8) The Green Hornet, (9) Peter Quill and (10), Shrek. Now, if you got less than 7 of the 10 sidekick names wrong, perhaps you should do something to build up your sidekick literacy. I suggest watching either “The Lone Ranger (and Tonto!),” or “Batman (and Robin!)” to help you better your score.
We’re looking at the Netflix series, The Last Kingdom, (again, this series is not for everyone and is rated mature for gore, language and some nudity). The Last Kingdom is the story of a Saxon-born (read, English), Dane-raised (read, Viking) orphan who rises to become King Alfred’s greatest warrior. His name is Uhtred; and because he was raised a Dane, the Saxons hate him and because he was a Saxon, the Danes hated him. In short, he was a man without a country who forged his path by being loyal to his convictions and to his friends. But Uhtred had a secret weapon. He had a sidekick. And this sidekick became his greatest advocate, his wisest political advisor, and his unwavering friend. And here’s the strange part (especially in light of the previous two posts in this series). Uhtred’s sidekick was a priest named Beocca.
Now, before we get to Beocca, let’s give the answers to the quiz. There was (1) Chewbacca, (2) Dr. John Watson, (3) Ed McMahon, (4) Barney Rubble, (5) Hermione Granger, (6) Gromit the dog, (7) Sancho Panza, (8) Kato, (9) Gamora, and (10) Donkey.
Now, we could say Uhtred had several sidekicks (Finan, Sihtric, and Aethelflaed could all vie for that honor), but Beocca was different. He wasn’t one of Uhtred’s men. In fact, he often confronted Uhtred, aligning himself with King Alfred against Uhtred. And he wasn’t always with Uhtred (like Finan was). Instead, he spent most of his time in King Alfred’s court. But the wide-range of influence that Beocca had on Uhtred tells me that he was Uhtred’s most valued sidekick. He was there when the story began. He was the reason Alfred accepted Uhtred as a warrior. He was there before Finan. He risked his life numerous times for Uhtred. He married Uhtred’s sister, and he brought reconciliation between Uhtred and his son. But here’s the thing: Beocca was also a true Christ follower. In a series where the church is often portrayed in a very bad light, Beocca portrays what it means to follow Christ beautifully. Here are five snippets (I recognize that if you haven’t seen the series, these snippets lack the emotional power of someone who has seen the series, but hopefully they serve some purpose here either way).
Snippet 1: Before the first great battle with the Danes, Brother Asser tries to dissuade Alfred from granting Uhtred a leadership role, after all, Uhtred is a heathen. Note how Beocca responds (again, for those who would rather skip the dialog, I’ve put the most important lines in bold). This is from season 1, episode 8. . . .
Father Asser: Lord, if God’s help is required, how could he look favorably upon Uhtred, a non-believer?
King Alfred: God is good.
Father Asser: Yes, lord, but in following the heathen, what does that say about our beliefs?
Father Beocca: Death could be waiting over the very next hill, and it will be Uhtred who stands in its way.
Father Asser: No doubt. A Dane will always protect his plunder. The king is of value.
Father Beocca: He is here to protect the king, something neither you nor I can do.
Father Asser: He is a man without a soul!
Father Beocca: Then I will be his soul. I will pray for him. I will ride beside him always and into battle. I will be his conduit to God.
Father Asser: And if you fall in battle?
Father Beocca: With the help of your prayers, brother, I shall become invincible, I’m sure.
Snippet 2: Beocca’s philosophy of ministry seems simple: look for the need, see the need and fill the need (regardless of the personal cost). Uhtred’s sister, Thyra, was kidnapped and held prisoner for years by a pair of evil men. During that time, they abused and mistreated her. Finally, Uhtred and his brother, Ragnar (which, by the way, is a great name for a dog) come to rescue her. But by the time they find her, Thyra has been driven almost insane and acts like she is possessed by an evil spirit. She has surrounded herself with wild dogs and is filled with bitterness and anger (from season 2, episode 4). . . .
Uhtred (looks up and sees his sister): It’s Thyra.
Thyra (protected by her vicious dogs): You left me. Both of you, you left me.
Uhtred: Thyra, no. I swear, we did not know you were alive.
Thyra: You are no better than the scum who took me.
Uhtred: Thyra, please.
Thyra: The price for my life is yours (the dogs begin to attack).
Father Beocca (he quickly stands in between Uhtred and the dogs so that they cannot attack): Thyra! I forbid it. Please. Please. . . . Let me help you. I am a friend.
Snippet 3: The idea of Beocca praying for Uhtred runs throughout the series. The Danes have taken the king’s married daughter prisoner and are holding her in Beamfleot for ransom. Alfred must choose who to go to the Danes to negotiate her release. Beocaa argues that Uhtred should be the one sent. Note how Beocca blesses Uhtred as he departs (from season 2, episode 7). . . .
Father Beocca: Uhtred! Uhtred, forgive me, but I have asked the king to excuse me from this journey to Beamfleot. God has always placed me at your side and I feel . . . shame for abandoning you.
Uhtred: No, Beocca, your place is here in Winchester with Thyra [your wife].
Father Beocca: Bless you. Uhtred, you have given me so much, but giving me the courage to approach Thyra [to ask her to be his wife] — that was your greatest gift.
Uhtred: I will be in your prayers, no doubt?
Father Beocca (jokingly): Perhaps . . . . . . . . Always [very touchingly and with a great deal of solemness].
Snippet 4: What I really love in this series is that Beocca, even when he is at odds with Uhtred, always interacts with “Uhtred the Godless” with warmth and humor. He obviously cares deeply for him, but he is not usually heavy-handed or harsh in his rebuke. Instead, he is gracious and kind and winsome. Note especially Beocca’s interaction with Finan in this exchange (from season 3, episode 5). . . .
Father Beocca: I was sorry to hear of Ragnar’s [Uhtred’s brother’s] death. He was a heathen, but a good man, and I shall pray for him.
Uhtred: I would thank you for your prayers, Father.
Father Beocca: Well, they are his all the same. And I pray for you, too, Uhtred, and I will not stop, despite your pigheadedness.
Finan: And for me father?
Beocca (jokingly): Oh, I fear you belong to the devil already.
Snippet 5: When Uhtred takes (kidnaps?) his 18-year-old son (a Christian who is in-training to become a priest–much to Uhtred’s consternation) on a mission, Beocca feels the need to come along. Uhtred and his son have been estranged from each other for years, and young Uhtred is angry with his father, both for not being there when he was a child and for his reputation as being godless. Beocca sees this relational need and steps into the gap, but Uhtred is not sure why Beocca is coming.
Uhtred: Did Hild [a mutual friend] send you to keep an eye on me?
Father Beocca: No. It was entirely my decision. You were right. I’ve allowed myself to get old too quickly.
Uhtred: What is the real reason?
Father Beocca: Word reached me . . . of the abduction of a young deacon. So, I felt I should, uh. . . .
Uhtred: You came to help me be a better father.
Father Beocca: Well, there is that.
Years ago, I read an autobiography about a man who was struggling with his faith. The main issue for him was that he didn’t see Jesus in any of the people he knew who claimed to be Christians. And so, he took off on a trek around the world to discover himself and to search for a faith that was real. Somewhere on that trip, he encountered a man who had left a successful business practice in the US and had moved to India to work with Mother Teresa’s ministry to the poor and dying. As our author talked to this man, the man stated that as he gave of himself to the poor and dying, he felt God’s presence with him. That statement made a profound impact upon the author who concluded his chapter with this dramatic confession: “Finally, I had found a true Christian.” (I am sorry that I cannot remember the book or the author.)
As I watched The Last Kingdom for the first time, I was struck by the terrible things that were done by so-called Christians (Father Asser, Abbot Eadred, Brother Godwin, just to name a few) in the name of the church. Not only was I struck by these betrayals, but I was angry. But then Beocca came to the forefront, and I felt like, finally, I had found a real Christian. The story of Beocca raises five quick questions for us to ponder.
First, are we praying diligently for the unchurched people in our lives? In Luke 18, Jesus gave his disciples a parable “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (vs. 1). I don’t know about you, but for me, praying is always hard work, and praying for what seems to be a “lost cause” over long periods of time is particularly difficult. But Jesus calls us to pray and not give up. Why? There are two main reasons. First, love never gives up (1 Cor. 13:7-8); and therefore, if we love the person, we should not give up praying for them–ever. Second, because the most difficult struggles are only healed by prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast out the demon that was terrorizing a young boy, Jesus said (Mark 8:29), “This kind can only come out by prayer.” God calls us to pray and to not give up. Do we love the people God has put on our heart enough to pray and not give up?
Second, are we willing to become good friends with the unchurched people all around us so that we can sow seeds of grace in their lives? Take a minute and count the number of church friends you have that you would consider good friends. For most of us, that number is pretty high. Now, take a minute and count the number of unchurched good friends you have. For most of us, that number is pretty low. And yet, we are called to love our neighbors. Let’s be honest, the only way we can accomplish the greatest commandment is if we are willing to invest a good deal of time to get to know our neighbors, but that takes work. The adage is old, but it is still true: “People don’t care what you know, until they know that they care.” The church today isn’t great at loving one another. It is even worse at loving people outside of its walls. And it is worse yet at loving people who disagree with almost everything we believe, but Jesus calls us to love them nevertheless. Are we willing to invest ourselves in the lives of the people God puts in our path so that we may show them the love of God?
Third, are we willing to see the needs around us? Or maybe, more importantly, are we willing to do anything about the needs that we do see? I am becoming convinced that half our job is simply to see the needs around us. I believe that if we truly see them, we will be moved by compassion to meet them; but most of the time, we simply don’t notice that the people around us are hurting. Joe Navarro wrote: “The problem is that most people spend their lives looking . . . but not truly seeing.” Are we actively looking for how we can make a difference in the lives of the people around us through deeds of love and mercy?
Fourth, this sounds cliché, but are we helping the people around us to be the best versions of themselves possible? Are we encouraging people to grow? Are we listening to them so that they know someone cares? Are we speaking to them with life-giving words? Are we walking with them to inspire them to greatness? Are we leading them to Jesus? Here’s the big question: Are we tangibly helping the people around us to be the best they can be so that they may know God’s goodness?
Fifth, is there one person that God has placed on your heart that needs you in their life? Perhaps, you are the only Christ follower in their life. Perhaps, no one else is praying for them. Perhaps, no one else cares for their spiritual well-being as deeply as you. Perhaps, no one knows their story or their pain or their hopes as well as you do. Who is the one person that God has given you the great privilege of coming alongside so you can be their sidekick? Who is the one person you have been blessed to pray for diligently? Beocca was Uhtred’s sidekick, but he was more than that. He was Uhtred’s friend and his spiritual advocate, and we all need someone like that. So, who is the hero that needs you as their sidekick?
Here’s the good news: Beocca wasn’t the only good priest. There was also a priest named Pyrlig. He will be our focus next week. Thanks for reading.