The eighth of nineteen reflections on the Coen Brothers’ filmography and the season of Lent. [View Series]
by guest writer Jordan Hopkins
I hadn’t seen O Brother, Where art Thou in a long time. Its antics, Southern Gospel-infused music, and quick dialogue make the film a fun and quirky trip even in 2021.
Fools for the Journey
Why did the Coens pick poor, mostly illiterate convicts to take this journey?
This theme brings us to our first Lenten theme: God uses the foolish to shame the wise.
Here’s Paul’s words to the church at Corinth on this very topic:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…”
1 Corinthians 1:26-28 (ESV)
For sure, Everett and team are not powerful, or of noble birth, nor wise in the world’s eyes. They’re mocked and hunted throughout the film, and in order to secure the town’s favor, they do so dressed as the “Soggy Bottom Boys.”
But it’s the foolish that shame the wise. God uses the humble of heart to move mountains — people like Delmar, Pete, and Everett, who in spite of their crooked teeth and past, long for healing. Each man in the film at some point falls to his knees in repentance, is baptized, or seeks forgiveness.
Not so with the “wise” of the world.
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Our three convicts act as foolish foils to the “wise” in O Brother. The strongest example is Homer Stokes, a flagrant politician running against “Pappy,” the incumbent mayor.
When we first meet Homer Stokes, he’s speaking to a crowd. His soaring rhetoric, humor, and odd choice of props win the crowd over. By today’s standards, he’d be an “influencer” or…a politician.
Anyhow, Stokes seems too good to be true.
Later on the journey, Everett and the men stumble across a KKK lynching ceremony: They’re about to hang their friend Tommy, the guitar player!
The three men knock out a few klansmen and don their racist garb. Dressed in all white and carrying the flag, they enter the belly of the beast.
Ahead of them is the leader of the klansmen. A loud man, dressed in all red, a symbol of satan leading this evil moment.
We later discover the man under the hood: Homer Stokes, the beloved politician.
Thankfully, Everett and the men free Tommy! They escape, only later to meet Homer Stokes at a concert later that night. As Everett, Pete, and Delmar get honky as the Soggy Bottom Boys, Stokes breaks up the party and calls them out in front of the whole town…in front of Everett’s estranged wife. Homer recounts their misdeeds, about how they “stopped a lynching” and are only masquerading.
Homer launches into a racist, hateful tirade on the microphone — which just so happens to be broadcasted on live radio.
The politician is de-cloaked.
The town realizes he’s evil incarnate, and they carry him out of town as he’s pelted with moldy food.
In the end, the foolish shamed the wise.
A Lenten Lesson
Though O Brother is silly and quirky, it carries a strong reminder: We can’t win this world over by our swagger, influence, or hatred.
It’s already been won by Christ. We’re here to be “foolish” for His sake and the sake of others.
Here are Paul’s closing remarks about why God chose the “foolish” things of the world to bring about His glory:
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:28-31 (ESV)
As “foolish” disciples, we get to carry the Good News of the very “Wisdom of God,” Jesus Christ.
And if the likes of Pete and Everett can change a small town, imagine how a handful of humble, committed Christ-followers could change the world.
Jordan is the creator of ScriptureSauce.com, a weekly newsletter and blog on the Bible. He’s also a dad, husband, Star Wars nerd, and general outdoor enthusiast.