A Gospel Conspiracy Theory (Sort of)

I recently watched the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder again. It is a masterful performance by Wilder, despite some of the other quirks of the plot. An interesting plot element is the shadowy character of Mr. Wilkinson. Most of us remember him as “Arthur Slugworth.”


He appears as each golden ticket is found and explains that he wants the child to steal an Everlasting Gobstopper for him. The presence of the conspiracy plays into the demise of both Violet and Mike. It also lays hold of Grandpa Joe, but Charlie, the hero of the story, resists the siren song to sell out, and is declared the winner.

The Slugworth conspiracy served to help separate the sheep from the goats in this iconic film. The lure of lucrative betrayal is an element that lingers throughout the film–especially when the characters met challenge or rebuke.

Without the presence of Slugworth, the film would have lost one of it’s darker undertones, and also some of it’s moral punch when Charlie lays the Gobstopper on Mr. Wonka’s desk when he thinks, he too, has been disqualified and must leave without his lifetime supply of chocolate.

In the Gospel narratives, it is clear that during Holy Week Jesus makes explicit that one of the disciples would betray him. A conspiracy is afoot, and Christ makes it known to all, though he does not name Judas immediately. I found it interesting reading John 6 recently, that we have a hint that perhaps the disciples knew something was up much sooner.

But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6:64 ESV)

Even the “There are some of you who do not believe” signifies that there is a potential agent provocateur in their midst. This, it seems, would incite a question–if unspoken, at least thought–by all 12 disciples.

“Is it me?”

This led me to ponder, was the presence of a betrayer necessary to the development of the Apostles? Was it part of their divinely ordered formation to “have a Judas”? Did the dark undercurrent of the possibility of betrayal play, perhaps, a similar effect in the development of the disciples as the presence of Slugworth played for Charlie?

A case can be made that we can only really grown in Christ-likeness if we are willing to face hard questions. Some of the hardest were faced by the disciples. “Do you want to go away as well?” and “Do you truly love me?” come to mind.

In the early church, one of the hardest questions faced by believers was whether or not they could be faithful even unto martyrdom. Some were not, and this generated some controversy in the early church. Could someone who had denied Christ under duress really be a believer? Could they be restored to fellowship?

Interestingly, it was those who had stood up under near-death torture and suffering who were most sympathetic to those who had caved. It seems they had empathy for their brothers and sisters because they too, had felt the strong temptation to give in.

We may never have a knife held to our neck and be challenged to recant our faith or die. But, all of us face decisions on a regular basis where we know one choice to be Christ-affirming and another to be Christ-denying. We all, on occasion, fall short of the glory of God, either through commission or omission.

Ultimately, we only truly rest in God’s grace, and not our own merit when we, in honesty, can answer Jesus and say, “Yes, sometimes I do want to bail. I know the sin and vice that lurk in my heart and the evil that I am capable of. Too often I chose the path of destruction and not the path of life” Only when we echo the words of Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” (Luke 5:8 ESV) do we truly grasp the position we are in.

But in God’s grace, he does not depart from us. He calls us to lay ourselves on his altar, broken, blemished and unworthy. He takes us, and he breathes his Spirit into us, that we might become what he created us to be–loved by him and lovers of him. Like Peter walking away from the beach in the final chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus persistently, insistently, and lovingly chides, “Follow me.”

We may be tempted to utter, “But….”

“But nothing, you are still standing.”

“Only by the grace of God!”

“Exactly. Now follow me.”


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