“That’s the word he used. Prophecy. Does that sound good or bad?” –Sydney

So many great science fiction shows have an underlying mythology behind them. X-Files and their alien mythos. Fringe and “The Pattern”. Lost and their “what the hell is going on?” mythos. Alias had its own mythos, the Rimbaldi mythology, which often threatened to overwhelm the precarious balance of the themes of the show. Many of Sydney Bristow’s (Jennifer Garner) missions centered around the search for and recovery of artifacts created by Milo Rambaldi, a Renaissance-era combination of Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus. Rimbaldi was an artist, inventor, and Pope Alexander VI’s chief architect whose advanced designs got him labeled a heretic. The Rimbaldi scavenger hunt often felt reminiscent of the Da Vinci Code and like with Lost, early on in the show, one might have had the impression that the writers were making up the mythology as they went along.

“Do you believe in redemption?” –Sloan

To SD-6 supervisor Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), Rimbaldi was a prophet and through his journey, he might find eternal life. Sloane was always a complex villain, which is what made him both so charismatic and interesting. As is the case with all well rounded villains, he believes himself to be the hero of his own story. In him we can learn a few things about the perils, cost, and necessities of being a disciple. He was a simple man of faith pursuing the object of his faith with his entire heart, sacrificing all in pursuit of the ultimate Truth.

It began with an epiphany, a moment of truth or an end of self moment of clarity. An encounter with Rimbaldi changed his life, giving it meaning and purpose. It was ancient text he and the other Rimbaldi followers were asked to put their faith in; an ancient text with a vitality for modern times. Through it they managed to divine patterns of hidden meaning in ordinary things. He immediately abandoned his old life, the life of a patriot serving his country, and turned away from people he loved. His friend, Sydney’s father, Jack (Victor Garber) even confronted him about it: “I used to feel sorry for you. Couldn’t you sense it? You’d been abandoned. Left for dead. Disgraced. I pitied you. That you needed Rimbaldi to fill a void in your life. It was like a religion for you.”

“I should never have heard that man’s name.” –Sloan (speaking of Rimbaldi)

Like many disciples, after a difficult path, full of sacrifices, Sloane comes to a place where he regrets becoming a disciple. Jesus once warned his disciples about counting the cost of being a disciple:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-35)

The path of a disciple is marked with hard choices fraught with peril and errors in judgment. As Dietrich Bonhoffer argues, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ … costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.””

Sometimes people come to a point where they feel betrayed by their faith. Many a time, Sloane was left wondering was it all worth his, his own brand of a dark night of the soul. Some folks simply walk away. I’m reminded of the passage in John 6 starting in verse 60, when many of the disciples deserted Jesus. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” they grumbled. And after Jesus questioned some of them (“Does this offend you?”) many turned their back and no longer followed him. So he turned and asked the rest of his disciples “You do not want to leave me too, do you?” Sometimes we may feel like the remaining twelve disciples. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

“I don’t know what your beliefs are. If you have a faith. If you expect that something follows this life. You might have none. But if there is a chance that there is something else, that we face the consequences of our actions in this lifetime … this is your last chance to do what’s right.” –Sydney

Jesus never claimed that his purpose was to come to have a personal relationship with us. He did, however, say that He came to build his church and called for the church to go forth and make disciples. I’m reminded of this quote from identifying a disciple:

Following Jesus as a lifestyle isn’t a matter of do’s and don’ts as much as an expression of a new identity in Jesus. This identity as God’s image bearers gets expressed toward specific audiences – toward God we are worshippers, toward other Christ followers we are community and towards the very world of people Jesus came to earth on mission to rescue – we join him on mission. While we all sign on to the same calling, God is big enough to creatively invite each of us to a personal pursuit of following Jesus.

Spiritual journeys are difficult. Some people persevere, realizing the importance of questioning and investigation. It’s frighteningly easy to go off of a path as Sloane so tragically found out. Perhaps the object you were following wasn’t meant to be followed, perhaps you made an idol out of something which was good. It can happen in degrees, a slight deviation, and then further down the road you are left lost. What should you do in the face of feeling betr
ayed? What do you do with your questions and doubts? How do you remedy that? What can you do to prevent veering from the path we’re called to? We’re not called to ignorance. Each of us has been gifted with a will and intellect of our own. The only true betrayal of faith is to abandon thinking about it and seeking to know God. The path may look different for each of us, but the journey must be persevered.