August 7, 2016
Since April Mowgli has swung back into theaters. The 2016 John Favreau version is a computer generated image adaption that softened Rudyard Kipling’s admiration for power into a focus on the role of law. Keeping the power of this orphan-saved-by-wolves story robust, this 2016 Jungle Book is suggesting that we can only be true to our selves, if we abide by a common law. Kipling captured this theme of the law in a poem, “The Law of the Jungle”:
Now this is the Law of the Jungle – as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
To a former cub-scout this message still resonates as if this was my own story. The Mowgli sequel was our overarching cub-scout narrative; Bagheera, Baloo, Shere-Khan, Kha, and of course Akela, were all familiar characters to us. But Mowgli the man-cub was our best friend, the outsider that made us all feel at home in the daunting world that carried its label “jungle” as a comforting recognition. Yet, kind Akela adopted us all and taught us like her own cubs to be resourceful and persevering, but above all to value the power of a common agreement, the law of the Jungle.
Maybe the timing of this new version of The Jungle Story is no coincidence, when a good number of people today express the sense of loss of justice. Law seems to be more ethereal these days. Several people mentioned lately how in their circle of boards, schools, or neighborhoods, rules are sometimes considered to be obstacles or mere suggestions. The emphasis on the individual has caused an erosion of rules that are meant to give strength to all. The rules are still in place, but the sense of law, why we have the law, seems to evaporate.
If cub-scouting or the Mowgli story could remind us something, it is the importance of a common law, of covenantal living. More than a set of rules, the sense of the law among the group influences and determines the strength of its members.
It is this ‘sense’, so hard to grasp, that is part of what the Gospel of Matthew is seeking to convey in order to explain what Jesus is all about (theme of this Sunday’s sermon). Kipling did it in his own way. But this sense of law is not a neutral factor of our lives. Because either the law wins or the jungle wins. And depending on the outcome our lives will look very different. Maybe through Mowgli and Matthew we can revive a much needed mindset of justice and law that is put in place to strengthen us all.