Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) run simple scams on the streets of Joliet, IL. As chance would have it they bamboozle a mob man loaded with cash from illegal gambling. It’s the pay day of a lifetime, but kingpin Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) can’t allow petty thieves to skim his profits. To send a message, Lonnegan sends henchmen to throw Luther Coleman out his apartment window, leaving Hooker behind to mourn…and plot revenge.
The Sting reeks of irony! A calloused thief (Hooker) steals from a ruthless organized crime syndicate (the mob) and to avenge his murdered friend vows to steal more from the mob. Hooker’s not even planning on distributing the plunder to the poor, like Robin Hood. He’s just trying to humiliate the mob. Somehow this is construed as a righteous cause instead of sinners sinning against each other.
Hooker isn’t conscious of his wicked ways. He sustains his life by stealing but doesn’t recognize his guilt. Hooker deserves punishment, but he would rather focus on the other guys. It doesn’t require any humility to accuse others. Jesus warns of this human tendency to gloss over their sin.
Matthew 7:2-5 (ESV)
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
As believers, Jesus asks us to remember that all of mankind is guilty of participating in a variety of vices.
1 Corinthians 6:8-11 (NIV)
You yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Who Punishes Sin?
Our carnal nature prefers to punish or condemn sinners and call it justice. Hooker gathers an all-star cast of convicts to carry out an elaborate revenge on the mob.
The great news is that God forgives repentant sinners! God commands us to love our our neighbor, not destroy them.
Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
If sinners fail to repent, there is only one perfect judge that can declare an accurate verdict, and it isn’t us.
Romans 2:1-3 (NIV)
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
The Classic Con of Man
So how did Hooker convince himself that he should sit on the throne of judgement? He was deceived. It’s very en vogue to “trust your heart” these days. The Sting is structured around the passion Hooker has on avenging his fallen comrade, to which the world would say, “Way to follow your heart!” Bad advice.
Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
When we trust ourselves instead of God we are slaves to our own vanity.
Does the Thief Have Hope?
It doesn’t look good, we’re all sinners being nasty to each other. We’re not fit to rightly judge our neighbors because we’re consumed by our own darkness. Then Jesus entered the picture and took our place of suffering. He came down and walked among thieves like us. While Jesus was nailed to the cross a spectacular conversation occurs:
Luke 23:39-43 (NIV)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
What a wonderful promise for those with faith in Christ! We will be with Him in heaven, simply by faith. Our scandalous deeds will be washed away and Christ’s righteousness attributed to us instead. Praise God!
If you’re curious about the film here’s an old trailer. God bless!