The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 47, "I Also Am a Steward"

With the opening of Book V the action turns away from Frodo and Sam, back to the rest of the Fellowship. After the fall of Isengard, we ride with Gandalf and Pippin to Gondor to finally enter the city we've heard so much about: 

Minas Tirith.

But the reception they receive is frosty. Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, is suspicious and hostile toward Gandalf. In their testy exchange, Denethor pontificates that, in his role of Steward, his duty is clear: Put Gondor first, above any other interests or considerations. To which Gandalf responds:

“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”
In many ways, The Lord of the Rings is a prolonged meditation upon power. At the center of the saga is the Ring of Power. To one side of a moral divide are those who seek power, Sauron and Saruman and those who follow them. Opposed to these are Gandalf and Aragorn, individuals of enormous power who either eschew power or put their power to work in the service of others. And then there are the contrasts we observe in those who swirl around the Ring and its allure of power, Gollum versus Frodo, Boromir versus Faramir. 

And because the story is fundamentally about power, it's also a story about kingship and rule. What does it mean to have and wield power? What does it mean to be a king?

Soon, Aragorn, when he comes to Minas Tirith, will give us a clear vision of kingship, especially in the Houses of Healing. But here, in his confrontation with Denethor, Gandalf also paints us a picture.

Beyond Sauron, Gandalf the White is the most powerful figure in Middle Earth. And yet, "the rule of no realm" is his, neither over "great or small." Instead, all that power is used to be a steward--a protector, guardian, and caretaker. This is the same role we observed with Aragorn, who, as the rightful of Gondor, spent decades of cold and hungry nights in the wilderness guarding and protecting Middle Earth. 

Moreover, the scope of Gandalf's concern stands in sharp contrast to the "Make Gondor Great Again" politics of Denethor, who intones: "Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor."

Where Denethor's concern is pinched, narrow and nationalistic, Gandalf's care is universal in scope. Yes, Gandalf cares deeply for Gondor--goodness knows that's why he's in Minas Tirith in the first place--but he cares because he cares for the entirety of Middle Earth, cares for "all worthy things that are in peril."

And it's not just the scope of Gandalf's care, it's also the scale. As he says to Denethor, the great city of Gondor may perish, but should anything "still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again" then Gandalf's work would not have been in vain. Gandalf's care encompasses the great and the small. Gandalf's concern condescends to the flowers.

After all, that care for small things is why Gandalf was interested in the Hobbits, a people so insignificant that both Sauron and Saruman ignored them. Flowers matter to Gandalf, and so do Hobbits.

All this is to simply say that, here again, we encounter one of Tolkien's great Christological moments, a vision of Christ: a mighty power who chooses to serve and protect rather than lord over and rule, a king whose care is not narrow and nationalistic but embraces the whole world, especially the small and the weak. 

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