For reasons I still don’t understand I was cast as the lead in our high school senior musical many, many years ago. I had never acted and I was not a trained singer. That stellar resume got me the lead role of Don Quixote. Go figure. The play was called Man of La Mancha and I realize almost fifty years later how daring that choice was for small town Chillicothe, Ohio. Man of La Mancha was pretty edgy for that era. You may know that the play is based on Miguel de Cervantes’s seventeenth-century novel Don Quixote. The musical unfolds as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. Cervantes takes on the character of “mad knight” Don Quixote and he assigns roles for the other prisoners. The musical is best known for it’s signature song “The Impossible Dream”.
As I look back I can see a spiritual lesson in the narrative. The gentle and naive Don Quixote sees the world through eyes of grace. He sees what people can become and not what they are at the moment. One of the characters is a self-proclaimed prostitute named Aldonza. But Quixote sees her as a lady and treats her with respect. He calls her Dulcinea, a name that is more befitting of a “lady”. But Aldonza lashes out with fury and hatred toward Quixote. All of her past junk pours out. A mother who did not know which of her many lovers was Aldonza’s father. Men who had used, abused and abandoned her. And now this man calls her a lady and gives her a new name and identity. Throughout the play Aldonza reacts with anger and fear. She hates what she has become but she is afraid to change. At least her identity as a strumpet is familiar. Don Quixote patiently sees her as a soul created with value who can be redeemed.
As the play goes on Aldonza sees that Quixote is real. His attention is not another ploy to use and discard her. And gradually she begins to believe what the old man says is true about her. That she does have value. At the end the “Quixotic” world of the Man of La Mancha is destroyed and he draws his final breath. Quixote’s faithful squire Sancho turns to the grieving woman and calls her Aldonza. She looks at Sancho and gently corrects him as she says her new name.
Her identity had been changed by an agent of grace. A parallel can be drawn to what happens to those who place their trust in Christ. Jesus gives us a new identity and He calls us by a new name.
We also tend to fight back and remind God of what we used to be and all that is wrong about us now. But Jesus patiently reminds us of our new identity. He tells us that we have been changed. That our spiritual DNA has been rewritten. That we are a new creation in Christ. That we are Holy. When you believe what Jesus says is true about you it will change how you live your life. You don’t need to work or strive to earn more of God’s favor. It is fully given to you at the moment you enter into a faith relationship with Christ.
Paul writes about this mystery to the Church at Corinth.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (NLT)
So we are a new person. Righteous. That is not an “impossible dream” but a theological truth. Christ has imputed His righteousness to us. Paul continues in his letter to the Corinthians.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
If I may borrow from the Impossible Dream lyrics…
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest.
My quest is to communicate the liberating message of grace till I’m laid to my rest. And that is a very possible dream.