When Ministry Leads to Resentment
In the movie named after its title character, Roman J. Israel, Esquire gave his life to a cause.
For twenty-plus years, he was a criminal defense attorney in a small firm in Los Angeles, serving the forgotten and marginalized. Though he possessed a brilliant mind and had the potential to rise to the top of the legal world, he chose to serve in the background on case after low-paying case, working to lessen the sentences of powerless young black men trapped in an unjust system. He toiled day in and day out, foregoing material pleasures like a fancy apartment, a decent wardrobe, marriage, family, even culinary diversity (he ate PB&J every night)—all for the satisfaction of knowing he had done something purposeful with his life.
When his mentor and partner dies of a heart attack, the firm shuts down and his crisis ensues. He is offered a lucrative position at the kind of firm he had spurned early in his career for being callous, soulless, and greedy. Or course, he turns down the job. But as he explores where to go from here, he realizes that the modest lifestyle he chose all those years ago would end up being an obstacle to his present job search. His dated suits and bad hair are ridiculed, his hand-corrected business cards are scorned, his experience is passed over for younger, more-polished packages.
The humiliation Roman suffers reaches its boiling point when he is mugged by a homeless man he is trying to help. In a moment of battle-weary frustration, and perhaps in summary reflection of his life’s work, Roman issues this complaint which becomes the watershed moment of the movie:
I’m tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
When Ministry Doesn’t Feel as Fulfilling as You Imagined
Any of us who have ever tried to make a difference in the world know exactly how Roman feels when he makes that exasperated statement....
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Photo Credit: Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash