“May he who illuminated this… illuminate me” – Henry Jones, Sr.
Looking at the adventures of Indiana Jones chronologically, we’ve seen him find religion at the Temple of Doom as he gains a heart for helping others. We’ve seen his religion of archeology slip a bit as he demonstrates a respectful fear for the saving power of God by way of the Lost Ark. You’d think he would have learned a lot, but in this third film we see that the man named after the dog has some needed training left. The Last Crusade depicts him as an adult in 1938 teaching his students, but what he says illustrates he has no idea what he’s talking about:
“Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth… so forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and ‘X’ never, ever marks the spot.” – Henry Jones, Jr.
Naturally, comedy dictates that our protagonist will soon follow a map, find an X, and ultimately discover the truth of the Holy Grail, the legendary cup of Christ. Along the way, he’ll get to further reconcile past mistakes, specifically relational difficulties involving his father. In the first story (chronologically) Indy exhibited care for people in the present, and in the second story he reconciled relationships he’d shattered as a young adult. Now the road to reconciliation stretches all the way back to his childhood, paving a new future for Indiana Jones where he is no longer a “lone adventurer” with friends, but a man with a family on a great adventure.
Although his comrades seem a bit sillier in this film, we find Indiana ultimately banded together with Sallah, Brody, and his father. The character of Ilsa goes with them too, but doesn’t fit in; she sabatoges their journey, seduces both father and son, and ultimately gets herself killed. She’s really just another reflection of Belloq from Raiders. The four remaining men literally ride away into the sunset together at the end. What brings this all together?
“…he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” – 1 Corinthians 11:25
Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world, to atone for sin and provide a way we could be brought back into relationship with God… a way we could open our eyes in God’s presence without being melted and having our heads explode. The Grail is a fiction, but symbolic of the reality that Jesus sacrificed himself to reconcile man back into the family of God, sinless yet taking the wages of sin (death). It’s so fitting that the course of Indiana Jones journeys brings him into reconciliation with his earthly father as they encounter the truth surrounding the cup of Christ, symbolic of his work to restore relationship with our heavenly father.
“Jesus answered, ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” – Matthew 20:22-23
For the first time, we see Indiana Jones set out on a mission not to discover an artifact – not for fortune and glory – but to find his father. It is care and love, however begrudging or fractured – that sets him on the Last Crusade. When they leave, he still isn’t even convinced it’s real. As they get closer, his zeal for archeology begins to grow, his “religious” nature for his craft, but this time his focus and resolve are stronger on the real goal. This is punctuated by a gunshot, when the final steps are taken for the life of his dad and not the discovery of a relic. Indiana Jones faces a final, literal “step of faith” beyond what he can see, again willing to lay down his life seeking the truth of Christ his father believes in so firmly. That faith is rewarded, and to save his father he “drinks from a cup” that might bring him death. Fortunately, he chooses “wisely”.
It’s a beautiful, symbolic moment as Jones drinks from the same cup as Christ, then brings that life-giving reality to his father. Still a fallible man, of course, Indiana finds himself dangling on a precipice only moments later reaching for the cup with his face turned away from his father. It’s the last temptation of Indiana: maybe he can receive life from Christ, reconciliation with family, plus fortune and glory?
“Indiana. Let it go.” – Dad
He turns to see the face of his father and is pulled up out of the abyss, fully rejecting a religion of archeology that Belloq accused him of in the previous film, a pursuit that ultimately leads to death (like all earthly pursuits, if central in one’s life). Indiana is lifted up into relationship, into family, and into the final moments of the adventure where there is laughter and reflection. When asked what he got out of the experience, father Jones replies “illumination”, echoing his first words at the beginning of the film. This is subtle, but directly correlates to “He who illuminated this”. Henry Jones Sr. is referring to God, to the truth and reality of Jesus, the cup he bore on the cross and what it means to our lives. In turn, he asks his son, Henry Junior, what he got out of it. And Indy’s answer?
We never get an answer. Sallah interrupts when he hears Indy’s real name, and the truth that his nickname “Indiana” came from their dog. His serious response is stifled by a joke, which is perfect… because if we as viewers have been pouring ourselves into the character of Indiana Jones, the question is really for us. We need to answer:
Do we understand how this character has gone from seeing false gods and paganism to witnessing the power and fear of God, to discovering the reality of Christ’s power and faith, and even drinking from His cup?
Does this illuminate anything in our lives?
Are we willing to do the same?
The confident leader of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword asks Indiana Jones to consider exactly why he seeks the Grail. It’s a great question for all of us to ask in regard to our life’s pursuits, our own adventures, and who we are doing it for:
“For HIS glory, or for yours?”
I hope the fictional story of Indiana Jones, if he indeed goes from “fortune and glory” to living life for “HIS glory” – God’s – would be a real adventure many of us enjoy before we stand someday in HIS presence. In the end, that same Cruciform brother put it best as he and Jones faced death together:
Wow, great read. Now you have me thinking that, in the phrase “X never, ever marks the spot,” X is the abbreviation for Christ, and thus a hint that Indiana at that time doesn’t believe X/Christ is the destination/answer/truth. Great read.