The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 18, We Are Beggars

There is much joy in Rivendell as Frodo is reunited with Bilbo. And yet, there is one troubling, disturbing moment that transpires between them.

Once alone together, Bilbo asks Frodo if he can see the Ring once more:
Slowly [Frodo] drew it out. Bilbo put out his hand. But Frodo quickly drew back the Ring. To his distress and amazement he found that he was no longer looking at Bilbo; a shadow seemed to have fallen between them, and through it he found himself eyeing a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands. He felt a desire to strike him.

The music and singing round them seemed to falter, and a silence fell. Bilbo looked quickly at Frodo's face and passed his hand across his eyes. 'I understand now,' he said. 'Put it away!...'
The biblical word for "revelation" and "unveiling" is apocalypse. Here in this passage we find a dark apocalypse, Bilbo's residual hunger for the Ring reveals him to be "a little wrinkled creature with a hungry face and bony groping hands."

Again, as we've been tracing it, this is one of the great themes of the story, the corrupting power of evil. Anyone in recovery will recognize this moment in Rivendell. You're years sober, doing great, and then, in a moment of exposure, all the old hunger and craving comes surging back. The addiction is still right there.

And yet, Fleming Rutledge also picks of a note of grace in this episode. Recall how, back in the Shire, Frodo expressed disgust at Gollum. But when the two finally meet later on in the story, much to the dismay of Sam, Frodo shows great compassion and mercy for Gollum. Where did this mercy come from? Rutledge suggests it starts in Rivendell, in this moment with Bilbo. Seeing what the Ring had done to Bilbo, someone Frodo loves more than anyone else, gives Frodo more compassion for Gollum.

There is wisdom here for all of us. The final words Martin Luther uttered before his death were, "We are beggars. This is true." We are all little wrinkled creatures, with hungry faces and bony groping hands. As GK Chesterton declared, we are a democracy of sinners.

And while such sentiments shock our humanistic sensibilities, they are a fount of compassion. We all need mercy and grace.

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