Why Jesus Achieves What The Squid Game Can't
Watch this Nerdy Devotional Here:
Squid Game seems to be taking the world by storm this past month and that’s great. I’m thrilled to see all of these new folks being brought into the fold of the death game genre - which is my personal bread and butter. But I have two issues with this show - number one: these stupid cookies are impossible to make. This was attempt #3. And second - couldn’t we have had a regular Christian to show the other end of the spectrum and how even WE would find this guy annoying? Either way - in this nerdy sermon, we’re going to take a look at Squid Game and look at how Jesus actually wrote this story before it was trending on the Netflix homepage. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and dalgona. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 20:1-16 NRSV
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
So, if you’ve somehow lived under a rock these past few weeks, what is Squid Game?
Squid Game is a South Korean survival drama television series streaming on Netflix.
The series centers on a contest where 456 players, drawn from different walks of life but each deeply in debt, play a set of children's games with deadly consequences for losing for a chance to win a grand total of ₩ (won) 45.6 billion prize, btw that is 38,150,000.38 USD. Each life lost adds to the pot with every individual being worth 100 million won or 83,646.37 USD
The story follows the main protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a divorced and indebted chauffeur, as he is invited to play in the Squid Game.
he is taken to a unknown location and finds himself among 455 other players, all with similar large debts
The players are kept under watch at all times by masked guards in pink suits, with the games overseen by the Front Man.
Much to his surprise, he meets people that he knows in the games, which would seem to imply that the pool is fairly localized. Song also makes friends and gathers together a ragtag group of friends - what is this some kind of suicide squad?
He also meets and befriends the gullible and innocent Ali Abdul who is a Pakistani foreign worker trying to support his family
Kang Sae-byeok, the Northern defector trying to help the rest of her family flee and rescue her little brother
And then Oh Il-nam, the mysterious old man with deus ex dementia tumor
The show then follows the main cast and some wacky supporting characters as they try their best to survive a series of childish games, like red-light, green-light, hopscotch but really high, tug-o-war, and the ever popular childhood game of EATING COOKIE.
There are quite a few themes to pick up on in this story and - despite a myriad of plotholes and truly abysmal subtitle writing - this show has picked up in a big way. For this video, I want to pick up on the actual motives of the ‘bad guys’ themselves
We don’t get many answers on who the VIPs are, why the Front Man is who it is, or pretty much anything about the people running the game, which is, in my opinion as a professional zero-sum game enthusiast, the biggest flaw in this story
But what we do get is to know why the people in charge did what they did (sort of)
In an effort to spoil as little as possible, because complaints aside, you should absolutely go and watch the show - at the end of it all our protagonist learns the true motives behind the game
The person in charge of the game believes that money has perverted the way that life is lived. With the power that comes from money, some folks will never be able to rise out of their status and the rich have little to worry about at all
So, this game finds people who are at the bottom of the financial caste system and it gives them the ability to play by the same rules as schoolchildren to rise to the top of the financial market with a huge sum of prize money
But if that’s the motive, then why are the VIPs needed and why is it televised? Whatever - going to stop critiquing it now.
Anyway, the motive is rooted in the idea that the Squid Game would allow for the caste system of South Korea to be broken to pieces by creating a different culture within the microcosm that is the Squid Game.
Now, if you’re a Christian, this should sound pretty familiar - the last shall be first, the first shall be last. This is a Jesus thing, in a way. But not really, right? If we just stop Jesus with the idea that the last are being pushed to the front of the line, that doesn’t really get to the point does it?
Let’s look to our scripture for more clarity here.
This is one of the parables of Jesus as told by the gospel writer of Matthew.
Jesus starts this one with one of his effervescent phrases ‘For the kingdom of God is like… dot dot dot”
Normally, when Jesus does this, he isn’t referring to a literal place, but a place of being and existing. The Kingdom of God is what occurs across space and time in a way beyond understanding. So, Jesus is saying that this is what it is like to dwell in the Kingdom of God, not that this is what heaven will be like when we die and get angel wings and flip flap away
Enough about that, what’s the actual parable say?
We have this dudeski who owns a vineyard and he is contracting out some labor from the town square. He goes at 6am and hires the first shift peeps and tells them he will pay them their day’s wage. The owner goes back at 9am and hires more folks. He does the same at noon. Again at 3pm. And finally again at 5pm.
After hiring what would sensibly be everyone and their brother, the Vineyard Owner calls everyone back to the register and starts to divvy out payments. He starts with the 5 o clock peeps and gives them a full wage. At that, the 6am folks get real jazzed. Oh man, if they got full pay, imagine how much more we’ll be getting!
But then, it comes their turn and - lo and behold - they get the day wage they were promised at the outset.
The 6am shift does the completely logical thing and throws a fit - look we have been working all day long in the scorching heat and you’re giving us the same thing that you’re giving the people who only work for like an hour tops? It’s not fair.
The Vineyard Owner responds and is basically like, I gave you what I owed you and what we promised. This is my cold hard cash to do what I want with it - who are you to tell me who I can give a wage to and how much?
And then we hear the infamous phrase, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
So, whoa, right? What is Jesus doing here? Is he trying to give us a financial lesson? Or teach economics? Is he getting downright political?
Well, maybe, but not really, right?
As Jesus and the Vineyard owner make abundantly clear, it’s not about the money. It has nothing to with how much they are paid. For the owner, that number never changes - it’s static and unimportant.
So what does change? Well, the hours worked. So is this a works-based gospel thing? Is Jesus leaning into the Mary-Martha ethic of work thing here? Should we do less work or become Christians at the last second before we die?
No. No - not at all. Remember when I mentioned that the Kingdom of God isn’t just referring to heaven - it transcends time and space.
If it were about the time worked, then the owner would have made a bigger deal about the hours worked. He would have rewarded the 6am shift a little bit. Other parables show the harder workers getting rewarded, like the parable of the talents.
So, what’s going on here? What is Jesus trying to do with this parable? A lot of things, but one of the bigger elements of the story lies in the crying phrase of the 6am workers at the end: Jesus, this isn’t fair.
Was it fair? What is fairness? Who got the best deal? That doesn’t matter. Fairness, in the kingdom of God, isn't a spectrum. One doesn’t get more or less fair - it’s an equal shake. Fairness, in the Kingdom of God, is known as grace and it’s available to everyone, everywhere, in everytime. That and that alone is what matters. That is the fairness.
When the VIneyard Owner goes up to the 5pm worker and they say they are still in the marketplace because no one else will hire them - he does it anyway and sends them to work for the one hour. Not because it’s right or good or generous, but because it’s fair. The Vineyard Owner, just like the runners of the Squid Game, see that everyone deserves the opportunity for fairness.
The difference is that the Squid Game runners are just like the 6am workers. Everyone deserves a chance at the fair shake in life, but they see it as a zero-sum game. The only way for someone to ‘win’ the Squid Game is to rise above the ranks and come out on top after having murdered the others along the way.
Well, friends, that’s no different than the capitalist rat race that everyone else is running.
The error of the Squid Game is that it’s just as broken as the financial system it is trying to disrupt. You cannot dismantle a system with the same system with a different coat of paint.
Jesus and the parable that he offers make no sense. And the reason why is because they don’t follow the rules of the zero-sum game. No one loses and that’s the game. Imagine if the trick of the squid game was that no one actually died when they lost, they just appeared to die, and they all walked away with 38 million dollars after the game was over. The game would totally change. They would still have the PTSD, sure, but that’s the way to disrupt the system.
Everyone wins. It’s not fair to the common sense of the worker. It’s not fair to the one who made it to the final spot and won the game. If everyone was a millionaire all of a sudden, it would inflate the economy, ruin everything, and not have the same feeling of victory.
But the truth of course is that that is nonsensical - and the kingdom of God is nonsense. That’s the whole point. We can’t comprehend this concept because it’s something that only Jesus could possibly offer.
To Jesus, fairness is a grace that passes understanding. A grace that really is equal and available to every single person at every single time in every single place. No ifs, no buts, just pure raw nonsensical grace.
So... sorry to the runners of the Squid Game and the VIPs, but the truth isn’t that people are capable of being good, it’s that all people are worthy of grace.
Btw it seems pretty clear that the writer for this show is not a fan of Christians and I’m going to assume that is because of colonial Christian evangelists invading South Korea. I want to apologize for that, say that that is a fair judgment of the Church, but that Jesus is so much better than the Church has ever been. I’m so sorry for anyone who has ever been harmed by the Church.
With that, what does this story actually mean for us? Well, it’s the greatest news that any of us could ever hear. Jesus is always available to you and grace is always open to you. It’s never too late. You’re never too bad or broken. It doesn’t matter if it’s 6am, noon, or 5pm, Jesus is the Vineyard Owner who will welcome you into the fold and treat you like you’ve been here all along.
You are welcome. You are valued. You are needed. If you’ve never heard that from a pastor or a church before, shame on them. You are fearfully and wonderful made and you’re always welcome within the digital walls of Checkpoint Church.
And if you know how to make these dumb cookies, please teach me because they look so good in the show and all of the YouTube tutorials keep letting me down.
Question: Who was your favorite Squid Game character?
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time,