Why We Need John Coffey Right Now

Disclaimer: If you have not yet seen the film, The Green Mile, and continue reading this post, you will encounter some spoilers.

On the green mile of a fictitious Louisiana prison is a prayer we desperately need. The author of that prayer is not a chaplain or a guard but an inmate, awaiting execution. His name is John Coffey: “like the drink, just not spelled the same.”

the green mile john coffee shakes Johns hand.jpg

The Green Mile is where we meet this unlikely theologian. When John enters the prison, he towers over everyone not only as a tall man but also as a convicted murderer. Along with the guards, we get to know him, and we realize this man is the opposite of a monster. He is gentle and respectful. He has a strange and powerful gift of healing. He lands on death row because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with right intentions—trying to save those he is accused of murdering.

The guards’ eyes open to who John really is as he reveals who really committed the crime. They witness him deliver an ailing woman from her illness. They come face to face with their devastating responsibility: they have insufficient evidence to save John from the electric chair.

On the eve of the execution, one of the guards, Paul, offers to help John escape. He declines. Paul struggles, his conscience in turmoil. John responds….

I’m tired, boss.... Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?
— John Coffey, The Green Mile

Last week was full of ugliness in our nation. It began with the discovery of bombs targeting a specific political group. It ended with the deaths of 11 Jews in their house of worship at the hands of anti-Semitism. A news alert about the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue arrived on my desktop as I typed a paper about the psalms of lament. Lament filled the room. Tagged to the tears of King David and the questions of Korah’s sons were the wearied words of John Coffey.

I’m tired, boss…

I’m tired, Lord…

Tired of ugly words that drive division…

Tired of painful wounds that are slow to heal…

Tired of bullets shattering us from unity into pieces of glass….

Can you understand, Lord?

Of course, you understand, Lord….

We need John Coffey’s lament as a nation. From lament we repent. From repentance we receive new life. From new life we walk forward filled with God’s Spirit to live differently.

After Paul walked John down that green mile, he quit participating in executions. He changed. He chose to live differently and well, forever changed by the healing gift he experienced in John and wished to share with the world.

May our tired, weary souls find rest in the one who changes us for the better. Filled with his Spirit, may we rise to resist ugliness. May we tend to each other’s wounds with gentle balm. May we trade our weapons for plowshares. May we seek to understand one another as we follow the Suffering Servant who quietly says, “Yes, I understand.”

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian