Recently I began binge-watching one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Fugitive (QM Productions, 1963-67), which tells the story of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), a man falsely convicted for the murder of his wife. On his way to the electric chair, Kimble is freed when the train in which he is riding derails. Four the next four years, he spends his life on the run, toiling at many jobs, running from the police and the obsessive pursuit of Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), and searching for the true killer—the one-armed man. It is a compelling story, brilliantly character-driven, and full of deep moral lessons for us today.
Revisiting the story of Dr. Richard Kimble has caused me to reflect on the story of salvation and the starring role our Savior played in the divine drama of our redemption. Like the good doctor, Jesus the Great Physician spent his life in pursuit of truth, a fugitive from heaven who walked the ordinary ways of men as he brought his life to bear upon the world. As we consider what it means to be free, both as Americans and as believers, it is only fitting that we consider the incredible struggle Jesus went through to bring us salvation.
Running and Righteousness
Richard Kimble is a man constantly on the move, traveling from place to place, never really able to call one town his home. Yet everywhere he goes, he leaves a lasting impact on the people he meets. Though his circumstances could have caused him to become a bitter and broken man, he remains the best of who he is, bringing healing to others and challenging those around him to become the best they can be. Though he often takes the lowliest of employment, he works at his jobs with integrity, honor, and good humor. When he faces injustice he fights for what is right. He will face danger if it means helping someone who is hurting. And he never forgets his first calling to be a doctor when a life is on the line.
Jesus wandered the earth with nowhere to lay his head, bringing blessing and healing to those he met along the way. Though he was often tired and lonely or constantly challenged by the religious authorities he never ceased to be the Son of God. He healed the broken and preached hope to the lost, calling all people to embrace a new and marvelous way. Though he bowed to be baptized by John and stooped to wash the feet of his disciples, he displayed the demeanor of a perfect servant leader. He stood up to the Father of Lies so that he could bring the truth of the Gospel to a weary world, never forgetting his mission to save the souls of men.
Grace and Goodness
Throughout the series, the world throws its worst at Richard Kimble. There are several episodes where he becomes so tired and defeated that he is brought to the edge of despair. And yet, each time, he is given hope through faithful friendships and God’s providential care. In one episode, while traveling over a mountain, he meets a cheerful nun who offers him a ride and a lesson on trust. Even though she is struggling with her own calling, the two working side by side, discover what can happen when God brings two people together by divine appointment.
Along the way, Kimble finds strength in relationships with others as he calls them to choose the better path. He is often comforted by the closeness of women and the kindness of like-minded men who are searching for something better. These people see in Richard a glimpse of what they can be by accepting what it means to stand on the side of what is right and to strive for something more.
Our Lord too sought out companions to travel the road, men and women with whom he could share his love and his perfect truth. When circumstances tried to take him down, it was the comfort of the woman who washed his feet or the faith of the Centurion that caused Jesus to marvel at the power of the Spirit at work in the hearts of humanity.
Jesus poured out himself into relationships, calling all people to walk the narrow way. He was the One who embodied hope, whose love could melt the hardest heart, whose presence could calm the storm or call the dead from the grave. No one who joined Jesus on the journey would ever be the same again. They saw in him the very face of God, and yet, beheld the loving gaze of a brother. To be with him was to come face to face with an eternal path from which there was no turning back.
Solitude and the True Source of Strength
For the Fugitive, life on the road is often lonely. Though Richard Kimble is surrounded by people, he carries a burden that is his alone to bear. Each day he must hide who he is to avoid capture; and yet, in time, he reveals his true identity to some. He walks the way of life in the midst of death, often with only his thoughts and his faith to guide him. He knows he is bound for execution, but lives his life to the fullest, for the hope that one day he will be vindicated and experience his freedom. Through his words and actions, he brings that same sense of freedom and hope to those around him who are struggling with what it means to be fully themselves.
There was perhaps no one who experienced a deeper sense of rejection and loneliness that our Lord. He was the Man of Sorrows, taking on the sins of the world, who concealed his true identity from the crowds in order to follow the path set before him. He was a man of solitude, often retreating to the wilderness to spend time alone with his Father to gather strength for the journey ahead. Though bound for the cross, it was the thought of his eternal goal that moved him from moment to moment with perfect joy. He knew that one day he would be vindicated and he would bring the freedom of salvation to all those who would come to him in faith.
The Price Justice Demands
At the end of four years of running, Richard Kimble comes face to face with his greatest enemy, the one-armed man. He discovers too that the murder of his wife was the result a great betrayal from someone close to him. The series comes to a climactic conclusion at an amusement park, on the top of a high tower, where Richard battles the one-armed man and lays it all on the line for the cause of justice. It is there that Lieutenant Gerard comes to see the truth and turns death into life by killing the one-armed man and saving Richard Kimble. The man on death row is now set free to seek love and to walk the streets in full view of a wondering world.
Our Savior paid a costly price for our freedom, as he was taken high up that hill amid a circus of falsehood and bitter betrayal. Here before the world, the eye of justice was turned 180 degrees to reveal the truth in the sacrificial victim on the cross. The devil was defeated and Jesus arose from the grave to walk with humanity in freedom until the end of time. The life and work of the Lord all reached its dramatic conclusion on Calvary, and we who were fugitives from the love of God were restored to the family of the faithful.
The Fugitive in All of Us
Whether or not the parallels to Christ were intentional in The Fugitive is hard to say. Still, the show is certainly a testament to the integrity and values of Christianity. Family and friendships are held up to be treasured. Faith and God’s protection of the righteous come shining through again and again. We cannot help but identify with Richard, cheering him on and celebrating his strength and the goodness of the ordinary people who help him along the way. He is truly a mature and godly man in every sense of the word, living his life to the fullest every step along the road he walks. His journey is the journey we all hope to walk as well.
As believers in Jesus, we all travel that same road as fugitives, misunderstood and judged harshly, never fully at rest in this world, and forever seeking to bring the justice of the cross to those who are lost. We are called by God to be people of integrity who live our lives to the fullest as we follow Jesus along the narrow way. Though the modern world in which we live is far from what it was in the days of The Fugitive, the values of our faith will never go out of style.
As we walk along our journey toward heaven, let us never forget the One who became a fugitive on our behalf; and let us live our lives with joy, integrity, goodness, and eternal hope, knowing our vindication has come and our eternal home is at hand. God bless!