Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Liz Taylor of Samaria

My wife, Amy, is a movie buff - a fan of the silver screen. So naturally, Elizabeth Taylor has been a subject of conversation around our home in recent days.  Amy will tell you that Taylor was that rare Hollywood combination. Liz was glamorous. Liz was beautiful. And, Liz had talent. She could act.

I agree.

I remember watching "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" with Paul Newman and Burl Ives. As the film unfolded, I was surprised and awestruck by the fact that those two legends were being matched - stride for stride - by Liz Taylor.

Wow, I thought, she really can act! I was genuinely surprised. You see, by the time I got around to watching the 1958 film version of "Cat," Elizabeth Taylor was nowhere on my list of top actresses. Nowhere.

I must confess that my first memories of Taylor came from hearing comedians take jabs at her. They poked fun at her weight, her showy jewelry and her many marriages. In fact, she got married and divorced so many times that her life provided late night talk show hosts with consistently fresh fodder. In other words, I grew up thinking that Liz Taylor was a joke.

Then I saw "Cat."

How did it happen? I wondered. How did this talented actress with those striking violet eyes become a punch line?

I am asking this question not simply because I am fascinated by the fickle winds of pop culture. I am asking this question because this past week I have been reading the fourth chapter of John's Gospel. I have been studying the story of the woman at the well - a woman whose life was the subject of vicious gossip, a woman, Jesus tells us, who has been married five times.

I have been fascinated by the parallels between this woman and Liz.

First, like Liz, the woman at the well had a life before she became a punch line. She had dreams and promise before things went awry. Second, when things did go awry, both of these women were surrounded by a culture that got a certain (sick?) enjoyment out of their fall from grace.

Finally, even after things have gone awry, the woman at the well went off to do something quite amazing with her life. I'm gonna talk about this part of the story in my sermon for this coming Sunday.

As for Liz; well, perhaps the most amazing thing about her is that, while some would dismiss her life as a sad joke, I learned yesterday that this woman managed in her later years to raise over $100 million for AIDS research.

And once again, I find myself surprised and awestruck by Liz.

[Taken with permission from "Sharp About Your Prayers," the blog of the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston. Originally posted 3/25/11]